An astonishing new report on therapy dogs suggests an uncomfortable truth about the true role these animals play in our lives.
We see therapy dogs all over the place, not just in public areas where we would expect them to be but in areas where animals wouldn’t normally be allowed, like planes. Supposedly, they’re necessary for people suffering from psychological damage like post traumatic stress disorder, but new research from Yale University doctoral candidate Molly Crossman suggests that they may not have the impact we think they do.
After reviewing the literature out there, Crossman found mixed results, showing that the effect of having a therapy animal was sometimes positive, but it was also sometimes negative or had no effect at all. It shows that the trend of therapy dogs, which is based on the popular belief that interaction with animals can calm people down, may be based on nothing at all.
The problem is there isn’t much research out there on the subject. Many of the studies that do exist use small sample sizes, or did not control for other possible reasons for an altered stress level. And they also assumed that the results would be the same for all types of animal, even though people may react differently to different breeds.
“The evidence suggests that HAI has a small-to-medium effect on distress but does not clarify whether animals account for the treatment effects,” the abstract and intro states. “Research also has not determined whether positive effects observed in circumscribed HAI programs extend to companion animal ownership. HAI research needs to address methodological limitations and expand the focus beyond treatment outcome studies. By increasing our understanding of the processes through which HAI reduces distress, the circumstances under which it is most effective at doing so, and the influence HAI has on the animals, we can enhance the impact of HAI.”