One New York-based foundation has put the power of dogs to good use.
For nearly 25 years, the Good Dog Foundation has trained and certified dogs to help individuals in schools, hospitals, nursing homes and more. Each year, the organization trains up to 300 dog teams, helping approximately 100,000 people each year by providing therapy dog services.
Based in the tri-state area, the organization provides dogs and their owners who are looking to obtain volunteer certification with four classes that focus on basic obedience as well as impulse control. According to the organization’s website, it offers other training options and certifications for canines, including crisis response and professional certifications.
At an elementary school in Manhattan's Chelsea neighborhood, Martha Gold has been bringing her dog, Oliver, to school for the past four years. Oliver is known to sit in on the students’ reading classes, becoming a popular fixture during the day.
“He really is a rock star here. He’s a superstar,” Gold told NBC's Joe Fryer.
Several students feel the same way about the beloved Labrador. "When I read to Oliver, he’s somebody that actually listens to me," one student said.
Gold said that having Oliver in class is helpful for students because there’s “no judgment,” especially when it comes to reading. She explained, “The kids that feel funny about reading in public or even speaking in public feel good with him.”
Cindy Wang, the principal at the school, attributes Oliver's presence to the improvement in the students’ reading skills. She explains, “There’s a connection that Oliver has with all the students that really feeds into their souls and spirits and really comforts them.”
Harvey is another of the organization’s trainees. His owner, Nicole Lakin, knew that he would be the perfect dog for the job when she saw him interact with a stranger in an elevator.
"He walked up to somebody in a wheelchair and stuck his head up into the guy’s hand so that he could pet him, and I was like, ‘Well that was pretty impressive,’” she recalled.
Lakin revels in the companionship that canines can provide to enhance people’s lives. “They just see what’s in front of them and love us no matter what.”
Laska is another canine who graduated from the Good Dog Foundation’s program in March and went right to work to visit the New Jewish Home on a weekly basis. Emily Kaye takes her Siberian husky to the nursing home to visit with residents, who have become enamored with the canine.
David, a resident at the New Jewish Home, said that Laska's presence helps improve his health. He told Fryer, “It’s as important to our healing as the medicine I take."
Laurie, another resident at the nursing home, called it “love at first sight," adding, "(It) seems like when you need them, they’re there for you.”
“While it is likely that in a real-life context dogs are picking up on our stress from a variety of context cues, we have shown using a laboratory study that there is a confirmed odor component that is likely contributing to dogs’ ability to sense when we are stressed,” the study’s first author, animal psychologist Clara Wilson, said via e-mail.
Recently, therapy dogs were enlisted to help teachers, students, and their families heal following the mass shooting at Robb Elementary School in May 2022. After the tragedy, the Crisis Animal Response team of Therapy Animals of San Antonio brought therapy dogs to the Uvalde Civic Center to spend time with the community.
“For younger children, they don’t have the vocabulary to articulate what they’re thinking and what they’re feeling,” Linda Porter-Wenzlaff, co-director of the CARE Program, told TODAY. “But with a dog, they don’t have to. They can sit and hug a dog or pet a dog or just be alone in that moment with an animal that isn’t looking to them and asking them questions about how they’re feeling or what they saw. They’re just offering that soft, gentle accepting presence.”