When you adopt a rescue dog, it’s said that you’re rescuing the dog, but you may start to wonder who rescued whom. Dogs have many positive effects on humans, and a rescue dog, especially a traumatized dog, can change your life just as much as you’ve changed his.
For rescue dogs who were traumatized, neglected, or abused, being adopted gives them a chance at a second life. Some of these dogs don’t just go on to be pets, but rather become therapy dogs, helping humans in turn. Despite their own traumatic pasts, traumatized dogs who become therapy dogs are changing our lives for the better.
Traumatized dogs working as therapy dogs
Dogs who have been abused or neglected can often find new and brighter futures working as therapy dogs. For instance, the Maricopa County Sheriff’s Office in Arizona has partnered with MASH, a local no-kill shelter. MASH brings in abused or neglected dogs to work with incarcerated veterans. The dogs spend time with the inmates each week, showing them compassion and helping them to learn to show empathy. Both dogs and humans experience positive interactions that help them move on from their negative pasts.
Rescue dogs can also help people to cope with post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD). In helping people experiencing PTSD, rescue dogs are tackling a widespread problem. According to the U.S. Department of Veterans Affairs, 7 to 8 people in 100 will experience PTSD at some point during their lives. Resulting from a traumatic event, PTSD is often misunderstood and sometimes misdiagnosed, but therapy and counseling, medications, and exercise can help to treat it.
Specially trained therapy dogs can help people to cope with the hypervigilance and anxiety that come with PTSD. Dogs can also reassure people after they’ve had nightmares and can help them to feel less isolated.
Veterans aren’t the only ones who experience PTSD, but unfortunately, treatment and management options for non-veterans experiencing PTSD are severely lacking. In an ideal world, programs could pair people with PTSD up with shelter dogs who had received the necessary therapy training.
Emotional support dogs
To become a therapy dog, rescue dogs need to go through training, and some may not pass that training or may not have the right temperament for the job. However, these dogs could become emotional support dogs, since no training is required.
Emotional support dogs can reassure their owners just being by their side. People who are dealing with mental health issues like panic disorders, depression, and anxiety may feel reassured and comforted by having an emotional support dog by their side.
Emotional support dogs don’t enjoy the same public access that service dogs, which undergo extensive training, do. Public places like restaurants and malls don’t have to give emotional support dogs access, though individual businesses may choose to allow these dogs on their own. However, the Fair Housing Amendments Act does protect people with these dogs from housing discrimination. Under the Air Carrier Access Act, emotional support dogs can usually travel with their owners on planes, rather than having to ride in the cargo hold.
The benefits of adopting a dog for yourself
Not all dogs are cut out to be service dogs, and unless you have a specific condition that would benefit, you also won’t be able to have your dog qualify as an emotional support animal. But that doesn’t mean you can’t enjoy the benefits of adopting a dog, especially one who’s had a rough past.
Having a dog can help you cope with stress and anxiety. Dogs are great at providing comic relief, perfect for distracting you from the stress you’re feeling. Plus, because your dog will need regular exercise, you’ll enjoy regular exercise, too, which is one of the best ways to manage stress.
Dogs also provide many scientifically-backed benefits. They can help reduce depression, and, especially in seniors who tend to live alone, dogs provide comfort and social interaction. When you’re walking your dog, it’s much easier to strike up a conversation with a stranger on the street, so dogs can help facilitate these critical social moments. A study from the 1980s also revealed that petting or snuggling with a dog has essential positive physical effects on a human, including lowered blood pressure, slowed breathing, and relaxed muscle tension.
Rescuing a dog in need can be an emotionally rewarding experience, too. You may decide that you want to get involved in finding justice for animals and helping to ensure that future dogs don’t go through the negative experiences that yours encountered. From volunteering for a shelter to running fundraisers and advocating for stricter penalties for animal abusers, adopting a rescue dog can have a widespread effect.
Rescuing a dog certainly won’t just change your dog’s life. It will change yours, too.