A little puppy love to help you at tough times

Kirsty Blake Knox

DOG therapists could soon be mingling with funeral-goers to console them, a new company has claimed.

And it's not only funerals they'll be attending -- comforting canines might also be lending a sympathetic paw to hospital in-patients.

Pet therapy is the latest trend to come to Ireland and involves caring canines and their owners visiting wards and care centres around the country.

Pet therapy started in the US where comforting canines are on call in most NY police precincts to console crime victims.


There are also "funeral dogs"; pooches who wander the aisles during funerals and offer support and solace to members of the congregation.

Yale University loans out 'library dogs' to help reduce student stress levels. Along with books, students can take out the dogs for 30-minute walks to ensure they stay relaxed when cramming for final exams. And in some offices, puppies are brought in every Friday to elevate the mood in the workplace.

Irish Therapy Dogs was founded in 2008 and already has over 260 dogs on its books.

Any dog owner can apply, but chief executive Brenda Rickard warns that they are extremely picky when it comes to selecting owners and dogs.

"It's a long process," she told the Herald.

"Not just anyone can do it. We need to make sure we're dealing with respectable individuals and respectable dogs. We're looking for men and women who respect confidentiality.

"Obviously, confidentiality isn't really an issue with the dogs. But there are still criteria for them to get through.

"They need to have a good nature; they can't be too docile or too lively. And they need to be well groomed, they can't be messy dogs."

Some dog therapy groups in the States claim Labradors and Labradoodles are considered the best breed of dogs to become canine carers. But Brenda says any dog can make it as a therapist if they are prepared to put the work in.

"Any dogs can become a therapy dog, but we don't accept muzzle dogs for obvious reasons. As long as they're friendly and affectionate and dedicated -- they're in."