Therapy dog available for virtual sessions to help people cope during the crisis

Posted at 7:04 PM, May 19, 2020
and last updated 2020-05-20 14:41:52-04

PHOENIX — Animal-assisted therapy has been known to provide comfort to people in pain, both physically and mentally.

Dogs are a great option for this kind of work due to their accepting, non-judgmental personalities to help reduce the pressure someone might be feeling.

But due to the coronavirus pandemic, most of those visits have been halted.

However The Rebound Arizona found a way to keep the smiles going, even if it is through a screen.

A golden retriever named Laney is still available for those therapy sessions virtually!

One person taking advantage of the unique service is Jimmy Harris.

Harris is a huge dog lover. For him, seeing Laney immediately brings comfort.

"She's really good at responding to anything you're saying," Harris said. "And she even watches you on the camera, which is cool."

Harris served the United States in the Army National Guard, even traveling to Egypt.

"Some vets... you will see horrible things in the military and in combat," Harris said. "It can mess with someone's mind. I think just the connection with an animal just helps brings a calmness over the person's mind and they get to forget about whatever trouble's their having."

Aimee Galicia Torres is Laney's owner. Together the pair work with the Osborne Head and Neck Foundation's Paws for Patients program in California.

"The typical sessions kind of vary based on the person that Laney is meeting, whether it's kids or adults," Galicia Torres explained. "Some kids just want to see the dog and sometimes they want to see her do stuff. But Laney, as a therapy dog, her main skill is to provide compassion and empathy and to be intuitive to the patient or the people's needs."

Laney was actually getting ready for her first medical mission just before the coronavirus pandemic. The trip was cancelled. However, Galicia Torres knew that Laney was still needed.

"A lot of the times... patients need some sort of distraction or they're feeling a lot of pain, so Laney is a great way to distract them in-person," Garcia Torres said. "And what we've noticed virtually, it's pretty much the same thing. You know, you have this therapy dog on web cam and you get to interact with it. She's pretty interactive on camera."

For kids and adults, Laney can be a listening ear. Some read to her. Others ask her to do tricks in her many costumes.

"People are kind of losing touch with what really matters is that inter-personal connection," Galicia Torres said. "So I think what's great with Laney. She's able to make people build those connections that they may have lost touch because of COVID-19."

For Galicia Torres, she knows how special it is to create that connection - even if it is on a screen.

"Dogs have always gotten... given me hope and help during difficult times," Galicia Torres said through tears. "And so I wanted to be able to bring that to people."

She hopes anyone will reach out to try the service and see how it might make a difference. The session is free because OHNF is donation based.

If you would like to set-up an appointment with Laney, click here.

If you would like to donate to the organization, click here.