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Students Heal with Four-Legged Friends

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Monday, March 5, 2018   

INDIANAPOLIS – You may have seen therapy dogs at airports comforting passengers who have anxiety about flying, or at a local nursing home or hospital, but they're also being used in school settings in the wake of tragedy.

Paws and Think is a Hoosier nonprofit organization that has 120 teams of pets and their humans ready to provide comfort to those in need.

And Kelsey Burton, the group’s executive director, says there is a crisis team, trained to be ready in case of emergency.

Paws and Think recently sent a team to Ben Davis High School in Indianapolis after two students were killed in a car crash. Burton says dogs provide unconditional love.

"When you touch an animal, it's been shown that your blood pressure goes down, that you release endorphins, which are like the happy, good feeling that you get,” she points out. “There is statistical and medical evidence that shows that by being in their presence, it actually does help you."

In Parkland, Fla., comfort dogs were used to help the survivors of the recent mass school shooting.

Burton says dogs can help people get through very tough times. She cites an example of a recent breakthrough for a dementia patient who hadn't said a word in months, then started talking while hugging the animal, and another case of a Hoosier boy who lost his mother but wouldn't talk about it.

"And the kid who would not talk about this for months, to the point that the counselors were getting extremely worried, opened up and said, 'That's OK, I lost someone too,' and was able to express his feelings and talk to the dog, because the dog is not going to judge him," Burton relates.

Burton says all kinds of dogs are used to comfort people.

"We have a 1.8-pound Yorkie all the way to an Irish Wolfhound who's 120 pounds, and everything in between,” she states. “We have no breed specifications for our dogs, because we really are about a team. You have to advocate for your dog as a handler. You have to read your dogs. You're their voice."

According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, many studies show the health benefits of dog ownership, including several that show dogs not only provide comfort and companionship, but also can decrease stress and promote relaxation.


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