This Dog Knows More Than Just Fetch - The New Indian Express

This Dog Knows More Than Just Fetch

Published: 30th March 2014 06:00 AM

Last Updated: 28th March 2014 03:25 PM

Dr Magic gets his ears pulled all the time. Whenever he enters the campuses of Hope Foundation and Viswa Jeevan Seva Sangha (VJSS), two rehabilitation centres for drug addicts in Bhubaneswar, the participants pat and play with him as if he were a mere dog.

He also spends many evenings listening patiently to autistic children and is also their speech therapist.

Magic is a therapy dog of Bhubaneswar-based Hands and Paws Foundation. This two-year-old Labrador is a part of a growing group of dogs that are being used for a variety of healing purposes—from speech therapy, psychotherapy to simply cheering people up.

Popularly known as animal-assisted therapy, the process is slowly gaining importance in Odisha. And the man behind popularising this concept through the Foundation is Brijesh Dash, a dog lover and an animal-assisted therapist.

Dr Magic’s target group includes autistic children, drug users and senior citizens. While interacting with other people may be quite difficult for this group, dogs like Magic provide a constant source of comfort and focus for attention.

“Hands and Paws Foundation is actually the culmination of more than five years of planning, preparation and research. Love for animals, especially dogs and their amazing ability to create magic for humans is the essence of its formation. The Foundation came into being on August 22, 2013, and has since been working with slum children, drug users, the elderly and children affected by autism with the assistance of dogs in therapeutic interventions,” says Brijesh, who received his AAT training from the University of North Texas, Denton, US.

Though animal-assisted therapy may be at a nascent stage in Odisha, in particular, and in India in general, the bonding between humans and dogs has existed for centuries, says Brijesh. “Dogs provide unconditional love and compassion. Animal-human bonding is very natural; this is no science and requires no hi-tech study. Over a period of time, we have lost touch with the natural world which provides us enormous power and strength to carry on with our daily lives. Hands and Paws Foundation intends to bring back that feeling of compassion in the lives of people here,” he says.

Every four days in a week, Brijesh and Magic visit drug users in rehabilitation centres, children with special needs, rape victims, elderly people in old age homes, and those who are confined to wheel chairs and stretchers. All of them spend an hour with the doctor dog. “Every patient enjoys this time which has a healing effect on the mind, especially those who have to stay in the hospital or the rehab centre for a long time,” he says.

Magic also helps out slow learners. “Hyperactive children and those who remain aloof communicate well with therapy dogs. This teaches them discipline and also the rewards of doing a job well,” Brijesh points out.

So far, though Brijesh and his Foundation have been working on a small-scale in Bhubaneswar, they have received overwhelming support. His Foundation now plans to collaborate with universities for research studies on this topic. “While we go to different centres to provide therapy, we have plans to establish an independent animal-assisted therapy centre and help volunteers and pet owners to pledge their pets for sometime (may be an hour or two) to the cause. Further, the major thrust will be our volunteer programmes that will be activated soon, where training, certification and other volunteer-related activities of animal-assisted therapy would be undertaken,” he reveals.

Brijesh recently started Tailwaggers—Centre of Canine Excellence at Bhubaneswar. This is a platform for dog lovers, veterinarians and other like-minded people .

Pet therapy

■ In 1792, the Quakers founded a facility for the mentally ill and used animals as adjuncts to therapy. 

■ In the 1800s, Florence Nightingale used animal therapy for health restoration of the injured.

■ Sigmund Freud believed presence of a dog had a calming effect on patients, and his favourite chow-chow attended all his sessions.

■ AAT was accidently discovered by an American child psychiatrist, Dr Boris Levinson, in the 1960s

when he left his dog alone with a difficult child, and on returning found the boy talking to his dog.

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