More threads by David Baxter PhD

David Baxter PhD

Late Founder
Alternative Therapy Unleashed
Center for Reintegration

Calvin spends several hours a week visiting patients with schizophrenia in upstate New York. His positive demeanor and friendly disposition bring joy to everyone he encounters. Many consider Calvin a companion; he?s a good listener; he?s non-judgmental, and he provides unconditional support, asking nothing in return except an occasional scratch behind the ears. Calvin, a rottweiler, is a therapy dog affiliated with Therapy Dogs International (TDI), a volunteer organization providing quality handlers and dogs for visitations to a range of institutions and individual therapy sessions, including programs for people with severe mental illnesses.

Headquartered in Flanders, New Jersey, TDI is one of the oldest organizations of its kind, organizing programs with approximately 14,000 dogs and 12,000 handlers throughout the U.S. and Canada. Dogs must be at least one year in age and meet rigorous testing requirements, including obedience skills, manners and temperament. TDI offers member dogs to participate in several forms of treatment at no charge.

TDI?s services have been available for over twenty-five years, but many mental health professionals are just beginning to realize the benefits of pet therapy. In recent studies, therapists have routinely observed that companion dogs reduce anxiety in patients with schizophrenia and bipolar disorder, creating a more relaxed environment during treatment. Sandra Barker, Ph.D., director of the Center for Human-Animal Interaction at Virginia Commonwealth University, found, ?Five minutes with a dog is equivalent to 20 minutes of rest, and just 15 minutes with a dog reduced fear in patients at mental health facilities by 37 percent.? (Barker, S.B. & Dawson, K.S., The Effects of Animal-Assisted Therapy on Anxiety Ratings of Hospitalized Psychiatric Patients. Psychiatric Services, June 1998, 49, 797-801.)

David Servan-Schreiber, M.D., Ph.D., of the University of Pittsburgh Medical Center, has been prescribing pet interaction in addition to medication for years. He is convinced that his approach ? a culmination of medicine and pet companionship ? produces what he deems ?remarkable results.? In his 2004 book, The Instinct to Heal, he writes, ?The idea that a loving relationship is in itself a physiological remedy comparable to taking medication, rests on solid scientific ground ? but it simply has not yet taken hold in the medical establishment.?

Nanette Winter, a member of the board of directors for TDI and a licensed therapist, agrees whole-heartedly with Servan-Schreiber?s views. She believes anybody who enjoys animals will respond positively to this form of treatment. Winter feels the value of animals in therapy extends beyond dogs. ?Even a fish tank can be beneficial if it helps the patient relax,? she says. However, she finds that dogs are the most socially interactive pets."

Getting involved with TDI is simple. Many towns and cities have TDI groups or affiliated chapters that will provide free services. If necessary, a certified dog/handler team can make a visit to the patient's home. All certified teams are insured through TDI when working in a volunteer capacity. (By contrast, paid professionals are not covered under TDI's insurance policy when using their dogs in their work.) Winter suggests that anyone interested in TDI's Pet Therapy program should contact veterinarians or obedience schools in their area, as they are often aware of active therapy teams. One could also contact the TDI office directly for assistance in finding or setting up a program. Volunteering at an animal shelter is another way consumers can get involved with pets; Winter calls this opportunity a "win-win situation" for everyone.

For those ready and willing, caring for a pet of their own may have additional therapeutic benefits. In fact, Winter has noticed some of those participating in pet therapy have in time obtained their own pet. She says, ?The value of having a life to care for can allow the patient to blossom, raising their self-esteem. The notion of giving care rather than receiving it allows them to feel empathy, a key component in coping with mental illness.?

To find out more about getting involved, visit Therapy Dogs International, Inc., call (973) 252-9800, or e-mail


I am a strong believer in Pet Therapy and have often thought of getting my golden Hannah involved in it..Hannah is my "in house" therapist.I talk alot to her about whats bothering me,and spending time caring for her,and petting her calms me


Dr. Meg, Global Moderator, Practitioner
I have recently discovered that my little rabbit can be a very soothing influence :) . I take a towel and a book out into the backyard, make myself comfortable, and she comes and 'hangs out' with me...or on me from time to time... while I read. Occasionally she tries to climb on or eat the book, but other than that it is all very pleasant! What am I going to do when winter comes??

I don't know much about pet therapy, but I'm ready to believe that it could be very helpful.


My American Eskimo, Molly, was certified with TDI. We tried to start a program with women and young offenders at the jail in Ottawa and it had everyone's support until it got to the government level. It was pretty frustrating when they turned us down. Halifax has a fabulous program using dogs. I also did therapy work with my cat, Rusty, at a nursing home in Ottawa. I think the residents enjoyed it more than he did...he wasn't much for being hit and having his tail pulled. :rolleyes:

I want to get my new puppy, Jonah, certified so we can get back into it. It's so rewarding for both of us. Brody wouldn't even pass the testing process because she's such a landshark, which is unfortunate, because I was hoping to do it with her as well.

It is the most rewarding thing...I would encourage anyone with a dog or cat with proper temperament to look into's rewarding for you, rewarding for the animal, and rewarding for the recipients. It's a win-win-win.
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