Therapy dog research has encouraging findings for war veterans

Researchers found that by spending time with a therapy dog, war veterans felt less socially isolated and were more likely to recall fond memories. Tyler Schroeder / Global News

SASKATOON – A group of university researchers from Saskatoon, Regina and Hamilton used music to introduce a study suggesting the positive impact animals have on older adults. The song, titled I Had a Dog resulted from months of researching war veterans and their interactions with therapy dogs.

“Dogs don’t judge and dogs … are just happy to be with people,” said co-researcher Darlene Chalmers, who is also a member of the Faculty of Social Work at the University of Regina.

University of Saskatchewan (U of S) and McMaster University members were also involved in the study, along with the St. John Ambulance Therapy Dog Program.

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Volunteers paid weekly visits to a veterans facility between September and November 2015. Researchers observed the 30-minute gatherings, noted the observations and conducted interviews with dog handlers.

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“The therapy dogs and handler visits provided the opportunity for the veterans to reminisce and bring back fond memories – and that was the most significant finding,” Chalmers said.

The dogs also helped the veterans feel less socially isolated, Chalmers said.

The group presented its findings at the U of S One Health Initiative Research Symposium.

Veterans Affairs Canada and a U of S One Health research development grant provided funding for the project.

The song, by Saskatoon musician Wes Froese, was designed to make the scholarly study more accessible to the general public.

“It gives a broader distribution of our findings and gets that information out to the community and to the public,” Chalmers said.

April 30 is National Therapy Animal Day.

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