"Research Project Studies Benefits of Therapy Dogs on Mental Health" article

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A research project involving three Canadian universities is looking at the potential benefits of matching people with mental illness and addiction issues with dogs.

Three organizations in Saskatoon have partnered with the program, including the Lighthouse, which is a non-profit emergency shelter and affordable housing provider.

James MacKay, a resident of the centre, says he loves when the therapy dogs come to visit.

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A research project involving three Canadian universities is looking at the potential benefits of matching people with mental illness and addiction issues with dogs.

"(It is) therapeutic, and on top of that it helps some people out of their shell when they're closed up because of circumstances in their lives," he told CTV Saskatoon.

The dogs have been volunteered by the local St. John's Ambulance therapy dog program. Service dogs already help people with a range of disabilities including visual and hearing impairments, seizures, post-traumatic stress disorder, diabetes and mobility issues.

But this study, which is a collaboration between the University of Saskatchewan, the University of Regina and McMaster University, is different.

And Darlene Chalmers, a researcher from the U of R, says that so far the results have been positive.

"People say that the dogs don't judge," she said.

Chalmers has been working on therapy-dog research for a year and a half. She says that dogs help patients focus and open up faster in counselling.

"They're authentic in who they are and what they are -- they're genuine," she said. "And that overall would be the comments that come back through our evaluation: that it is a sense of non-judgemental love and support."

She added that close interaction with dogs initiates the release of the hormone oxytocin in humans, which "makes us feel good."

Another Lighthouse resident, Jojo Scollo, who at one time had owned a dog named "Scooter," appreciates their new furry friends.

"They are a therapy because a lot of our residents, even the homeless, at one time they had a puppy, a dog you know? So why not?” Scollo said.

Deeann Mercier, director of communications for the centre, says she's seen first-hand the positive influence that dogs can have.

"A lot of our people who utilize services at the Lighthouse have had a lot of traumatic experiences in the past coming from very difficult circumstances," she said.

"But dogs just have a way of not caring or knowing about that. I've seen them jump up and lick people."

#mentalhealth #dogs #servicedogs

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