For my first editorial with the Oral Health Group, my blatant opinion to start this piece off might not be the smartest idea. But I feel that I owe it to our dedicated readers, and to my two feline children at home, Eleanor and Lou, to be honest and open.
With that being said, I can without a doubt respect the companionship between owner and dog. Big puppy eyes glazed over in adoration and a tail that wags uncontrollably with excitement is proven to be beneficial for our overall health. And that’s something I can appreciate.
Studies have been done for years regarding the physical and mental health effects petting a dog has on humans. Research has shown that petting an animal releases endorphins, otherwise known as feel-good neurotransmitters. This positive effect is becoming widely accepted by both the public and professionals in therapeutic settings, helping to provide a sense of hope.
This brings us to the topic of patient anxiety, which is a long-standing challenge for dentists. According to Statistics Canada, 40 percent of Canadians have some fear of going to the dentist, and one in five school-aged children are afraid of dental appointments. Is pet therapy the solution? I personally would have loved a furry companion at the foot of the dental chair to ease my anxiety while experiencing my first (and hopefully only) root canal last year.
Animal-assisted therapy and pet therapy are types of therapy that involve animals, specifically trained to provide comfort and affection as a form of treatment and healing.Animal-assisted therapy is proven to reduce anxiety, pain and depression in people with a vast range of health concerns. It has also been proven beneficial for people with autism, cancer patients, those dealing with post-traumatic stress disorder, substance abuse, and even long-term care facility residents.
Though pet therapy is a growing field using dogs or animals to help people recover from or better cope with targeted health issues, animal-assisted therapy serves a more general purpose. While providing comfort and enjoyment, therapy animals are a welcome distraction, helping reduce stress and anxiety, even in the dental office.
Our cover star, Mango, is currently a facility dog at Kids’ Dental Group in Richmond Hill, Ontario. Over the past 20 years, National Service Dogs has placed over 300 Certified Service Dogs, including Mango, across Canada.
But what exactly is happening with the legislation in Ontario regarding service dogs?
Since June of 2015, NSD has been working with the Ministry of Veterans Affairs and the Canadian General Standards Board (CGSB) to assist in the development of a national service dog standard. Their mission is to “ensure consistency with national standards and to help educate and create accountability across Canada for service dog users and trainers, for general public health and safety, and to strengthen the public trust in the service dog community”.
National Service Dogs explains on their website that accessibility laws across Canada differ from province to province, and in many cases are “antiquated, poorly defined, and do not take into account the various needs of individuals with disabilities being supported by service dogs”. Knowing the benefits, NSD is currently working together with Assistance Dogs International, the Canadian Association of Guide and Assistance Dog Schools, and other accredited service dog training schools and clients, to improve laws across the country.
After realizing how beneficial these furry companions are to our overall health and healing, I think I’ll reconsider my “cats only” stance.
For more information regarding provincial service dog legislation, visit www.nsd.on.ca.