Health Care: A Growth Field, Even for Canines

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golden retrieverHealth care continues to be a field that's consistently hiring.

Among those being added to the staffs of health-care offices around the nation are "dog assistants." Mental health providers, plastic surgeons, physical rehabilitation specialists, and dementia experts are among those using dogs as part of the treatment process, reports The Wall Street Journal. Some dogs may merely greet patients to make them more at ease. Others have big roles, such as helping children with autism develop motor and social skills.

There are two reasons why dogs figure so well into the therapies that many patients could benefit from. One is that the dog, particularly when trained to deal with specific conditions, can pick up based on its sense of smell cues that humans would have difficulty picking up. For example, the dog can recognize when a seizure will occur as well as what part of the body a paralyzed person still has feeling in. This adds to the dog's natural intuitive ability. Recall how during recent tsunamis, animals anticipated the tidal wave and fled to high ground.

Secondly, in the presence of a dog, humans experience certain biochemical changes including a lowering of stress hormone levels. In addition, given the dog's unconditional loving manner, many first-time owners find themselves getting in touch with emotions they didn't realize they had. That, in itself, can trigger breakthroughs in all sorts of treatments.

Dogs, of course, aren't new to health care. When you visited Aunt Milly in the nursing home or assisted living, a dog was usually part of the staff. This entire concept is not really that new, we are all familiar with a variety of service dogs from the Saint Bernards used for rescue to the golden retrievers that guide the blind. What is new is how quickly these service roles have been expanding through the field of health care.

Obviously the dogs themselves are not the ones pulling in the big bucks, even if they are being added to the health-care work force in droves. However, with this increased demand for canine assistants comes an increased demand for all the personnel required to produce and maintain this new work force, including breeders, veterinarians, trainers, handlers and maintenance staff.

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