Pets have a long history of having a calming and positive effect on humans. During the Second World War, doctors kept animals in the hospitals because they helped many patients feel better. In fact, legendary nurse Florence Nightingale also believed in their healing powers, saying, “a small pet animal is often an excellent companion for the sick, for long chronic cases especially.”
This philosophy is what started the Dr. Dog program of the Philippine Animal Welfare Society (PAWS). Through this program, it’s the animals helping the people—Dr. Dogs visit hospitals, orphanages, and other institutions bringing joy to those who need it most.
It takes a special kind of pup and handler to be accepted into the Dr. Dog program. “The dogs need to go through a rigorous testing and PAWS basically needs to make sure that the dog will not bite, no matter what the situation or how you aggravate him. They pull his ears, his tail, they thump him, present him with crutches, with wheelchairs… anything that he might encounter during a session,” said Atty. Jennie Cerrada, a volunteer and the human of Doctor Dogs India and Ryder.
Along with aspiring Dr. Dogs, humans need to prove themselves, too! “PAWS wants to see commitment from you; a lot of people want to sign up because of the ‘prestige’ of being able to boast on social medial that your dog is a Dr. Dog; but when push comes to sow, they are not able to show up. If you volunteer for this program, you must believe in the goals and advocacies and really make time for the sessions.”
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Volunteers also have to be emotionally prepared for the Dr. Dog missions. Atty. Jennie narrates that they once had a Christmas-themed party in July, complete with noche buena, during one of their hospital visit to a children’s cancer ward. “The harsh reality is that a lot of the kids may not live till Christmas.” The Dr. Dogs wore Santa hats, and the volunteers presented the kids with Christmas gifts.
“It’s hard to digest, especially because they’re kids, they haven’t even lived their lives, and here they are in the terminal stage of a horrible disease. So we try to bring joy to them, even for a little while.”
They also visit orphanages and home for the aged, one of which is the Golden Acres. A trial run was recently conducted in a psychiatric ward with promising results.