Therapy Dogs Oklahoma: Canines Comfort Tornado Victims; Why Do Dogs Make Good Therapists?

By Philip Ross on May 22, 2013 4:01 PM EDT

canines comfort tornado victims
Therapy dogs are used to comfort victims of tragedy. Research shows that petting dogs lowers anxiety and helps withdrawn victims open up. Pictured, multiple sclerosis patient Nick Harmon touches Dare, a two-legged Sheltie dog used in therapy for disabled people in Denver, Colorado in 2009. (Photo: REUTERS/Rick Wilking)

Therapy dogs arrived in Oklahoma on Tuesday night to console victims of the tornado that sliced through the suburbs of Oklahoma City like a giant blender blade.

Lutheran Church Charities, a 501c3 nonprofit Christian ministry based in Addison, Ill., sent ten dogs to Moore, Okla. on Tuesday. The dogs, all golden retrievers, are the same ones that were dispatched to the Newtown and Boston Marathon tragedies. The dogs will stay in Moore for about a week before another group arrives to lead the healing process.

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"A big part of processing loss is talking about it," Tim Hetzen, a representative for the group, told My Fox Chicago. "The dogs are great for that, because they're great listeners, they show unconditional love, they don't take notes and they're confidential, so they're great tools for people to pet."

The organization states in a brochure advertising its therapy dogs that the canines can comfort hyperactive children or stimulate withdrawn patients, help relieve loneliness and depression, facilitate conversation and spark memories.

"People often talk to the dogs, and share with them their thoughts and feelings and memories," the organization purports.

Why do dogs make good therapists during tragedy?

Research shows that therapy dogs, like the ones sent to Moore, Okla., can reduce stress in human handlers. A 2002 study from the State University of New York at Buffalo says that people who spend time around their pets are less stressed.

"Relative to people without pets, people with pets had significantly lower heart rate and blood pressure levels during a resting baseline, significantly smaller increases (i.e., reactivity) from baseline levels during the mental arithmetic and cold pressor, and faster recovery," the study indicated. "Among pet owners, the lowest reactivity and quickest recovery was observed in the pet-present conditions."

The researchers concluded that having pets around had significant cardiovascular and behavioral benefits for their owners.

There are also a number of mental and emotional benefits to be gleaned from interacting with therapy dogs.

"People who have pets are less harried; there's more laughter in their life," Marty Becker, DVM, veterinary consultant for "Good Morning America," told Woman's Day.

Therapy dogs are even used to help returning soldiers deal with post-traumatic stress disorder. The organization Soldier's Best Friend pairs veterans with therapy dogs that they can take home and keep as pets. The organization reports that therapeutic companion dogs are allowed by law to board airplanes and live in non-pet-friendly environments.

"The dogs really do provide motivation and help us forget about pain for a few moments," Karen Jeffries, a veteran and founder of Veterans Moving Forward, told Defence Talk. Veterans Moving Forward is an organization that provides service dogs to veterans with physical and mental health challenges.

Read more from iScience Times:

Bank Vault Tornado: 24 People Take Shelter In Vault, Saved From Deadly Oklahoma Twister

Oklahoma Tornado: NASA Release Images; 1.3 Mile Wide Twister More Powerful Than Atom Bomb? [PHOTO & VIDEO]

Oklahoma Tornado Video: Raw Footage Of Devastating Twister [VIDEO]

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