They lick our faces when we’re sad, help kids build confidence reading aloud, bring cheer to sick patients in hospitals and enable people with disabilities to live independently. Is there a better buddy than your dog?
For years research has proven how therapeutic dogs are to humans. So, how can we say thank you to our furry friends? Here are some easy ways to show your support for all the super dogs in your life.
Studies have shown the psychological benefits for people when dogs visit schools, workplaces, libraries and hospitals. The social interaction benefits dogs, too, explains Lindsey Melfi, program manager for the Human Animal Bond Research Institute (HABRI). “Talk to your employer, start a conversation,” she says. “Just bringing up the subject moves it forward.”
Social media is a powerful tool to bring awareness to shelter dogs looking for homes, especially now that COVID-19 has limited our in-person interactions. On your own social media page, share posts from your local shelter about adoptable dogs and issues that need funding.
Many shelters nationwide have had to cancel fundraising activities due to the pandemic, while also managing federal funding cuts, explains Kathleen Lynn, director of communications for North Shore Animal League America. Ask family and friends to donate the amount of money they would have spent on your gift to a shelter of your choice. Often, shelters have programs where your funds go directly to helping a particular animal heal from an injury or a dog with special needs.
Dogs need exercise and quality playtime, but it can be taxing on someone who works long hours, is recovering from an injury or is elderly and tires easily. Offer to walk a neighbor’s dog around the block, pick up an extra bag of dog food at the store or bake treats for the neighborhood dogs. The neighbors and the dogs will be grateful!
Research can move dog-friendly policies forward. For example, victims of domestic violence often stay in dangerous living situations because they don’t want to leave their pets behind if the shelter isn’t pet-friendly. But, research shows that pets can help people cope with trauma. “This is hopefully helping to close that gap, for shelters to accommodate pets,” Lindsey says. Donate to an organization, like HABRI, that has grant programs for research.
“The key to being a really good pet owner is spending quality time with your animal,” says Dr. Jamie Peyton, critical care veterinarian and the chief of integrative medicine at the UC Davis Veterinary Medical Teaching Hospital. Take your dog for walks or to the dog park, play games and get in lots of cuddle time.
Most vet offices, both university vet schools and private practices, have funds set aside for emergencies, such as injured animals that come in during a natural disaster after a family has just lost their home in a fire or a tornado. Thinking about other dog owners when they are in crisis, says Jamie, “is really how we come together as a community of animal lovers.”
One of the more useful gifts Jamie’s clients receive are gift cards for dog supplies, she says. Buy a handful of gift cards from websites like Chewy, Petco and PetSmart to distribute individually or give them to a vet office or shelter.
Sometimes people don’t realize that adopting is not the only way to help, explains Kathleen from NSALA. “They can support NSALA or their local shelter by donating time or items for the shelter,” says Kathleen, who suggests collars, leashes, feeding bowls and toys. Pet food pantries also collect supplies and dry food, even expired and opened bags.
Many animal shelters run a thrift store, where all the proceeds go back to the shelter. If you’re not up for shopping, donate items — furniture, clothing, toys — instead.
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