Syracuse, N.Y. (NCC News) — With their wet noses, fluffy tails and soft ears, a group of therapy dogs is showing the positive impact animals have on people of all ages, whether it’s creating smiles, lowering stress or providing a non-judgmental listening ear.
PAWS of CNY is a non-profit, pet-assisted wellness organization that is bringing dogs, and even two cats, to visit people across Onondaga, Oswego, Cortland, Madison and Cayuga counties. More than 100 people and their dogs visit places such as hospitals, airports and schools.
Mike Lollis and his golden retriever Rosie began volunteering four years ago. Lollis said his favorite part of PAWS is seeing the smiles on the residents’ faces at Camillus Ridge, an assisted living home.
“There’s a gentleman over there named Richard that had golden retrievers and he never ever misses a day when we go over there,” Lollis said. “He gets down on his knees and will rub and pet the dog all over.”
Researchers at the UCLA Medical Center studied the effects of dogs visiting patients hospitalized with heart failure. Patients’ anxiety levels dropped 24 percent after only 12 minutes with the dogs, but 10 percent after spending that time with people.
“Even a short-term exposure to dogs has beneficial physiological and psychosocial effects on patients who want it,” Kathie Cole, lead author of the study wrote. “They make people happier, calmer and feel more loved. That is huge when you are scared and not feeling well.”
PAWS often visits patients at Upstate University Hospital and volunteer manager, Stephanie Mack, said the dogs help make patients’ stays a little easier.
“[They are motivators for patients] to move, to be social, to eat, to get out of bed, to be more independent,” Mack said.
One time a young girl in the hospital asked if she could take a picture of one of the dogs.
“She used to put the picture under her pillow because it kept the bad dreams away,” PAWS president Amy Dumas said. “The connection she had with the dog just made the difference.”