Dogs Providing Emotional Support

What began in 2001 as a group of friends looking for a way to share their love of dogs has blossomed into a professional matching service for educational, medical and residential facilities.

Dogs on Call Inc. promotes the animal-human bond through canine interactions, and Liz Morrison is one of dozens of volunteers who provide therapeutic service to those in need of comfort in the Madison area. Morrison and her French bulldog Charlotte have been working with Dogs on Call for two years. Sometimes the pair travels to different Madison locations alone; others with other volunteer people and pets in tow.

“From the first year of Charlotte’s life, I knew I had found a dog who could do the sort of work I’ve been wanting to do for a long time,” Morrison recalls.

Morrison and Charlotte spend much of their time at Meriter Hospital and UW Hospital, typically on their own. Charlotte is introduced as a visitor to the patients in Psych Units, the ER and friends and family in surgical waiting areas. Very rarely is she turned away. Her exuberant, good-natured temperament attracts instant playmates, even if only for a short time, and lots of questions about her, particularly from children.

In addition to hospital adventures, Morrison coordinates a program with visits to the UW campus dorms that involves between four and seven teams of owners and dogs. Morrison and Charlotte are usually stationed on the floor by an activities director and wait for students to gather around them. Charlotte attempts to visit everyone in the circle, and starts all over as new students replace leaving ones. Morrison gives all the credit to Charlotte, saying she’s just there to hold the leash.

“It is heartwarming to see the reactions from these young people,” Morrison remembers. “I’ve seen people laughing, crying or just sitting in amazement.”

Morrison believes strongly in the potential Dogs on Call has to help anyone in need of comfort by sharing animals’ unconditional love. “I used to say that Charlotte has way too much love in her, I can’t keep it all to myself! So we share it,” Morrison explains.

Indeed, research has shown that pet therapy can have a positive influence on hospital patients. In a 2001 study at the University of Wisconsin Hospitals and Clinics, Mary Kaminski, Teresa Pellino and Joel Wish tested how play versus pet therapy affected seventy hospitalized children. They found that “heart rates, parents’ ratings of child’s mood, and display of positive affect” were higher in the pet-therapy group, leading to the conclusion of it as a supportive activity for hospitalized children.

It’s a fact Morrison wishes to bring to people outside of hospitals as well. The reactions from students are the best, says Morrison. “In the blink of an eye, the stress and anxiety from the week slip away to be replaced by a smile that spreads from one student to another.”

Dogs on Call also provides an animal-assisted literacy program for children. Trained dogs act as reading companions to kids who are struggling, providing the perfect partner—one who is quiet, safe and attentive—in skills building and communication.

For more information about Dogs on Call, Inc. visit www.dogsoncall.org

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