Sisters Kim and Kerry giggle in the Memory & Movement Charlotte waiting room, recalling stories of their mother’s dog. “He was only a puppy when she got him, he fit into the palm of my hand!” Kerry remembers. Joan Wright laughs as Oliver, one of her Cavalier King Charles Spaniels licks Kerry’s ear.
These moments are the reason Joan and her therapy dogs, Oliver and Brodie, volunteer at MMC.
“I’ve had a dog as long as I can remember,” Joan recalls. “When my father developed dementia it became difficult to communicate with him. But with a dog in his lap, his anxiety lowered and we could talk.”
Joan’s used the power of “dog talk” ever since. As a social worker and executive coach, she’s found her clients work through difficult topics more easily when there’s a furry friend nearby. Research backs up experience: for most people, spending just a few minutes with an animal prompts the body to release serotonin, prolactin and oxytocin – hormones that help us relax.
Oliver and Brodie are professionals. Therapy dogs go through an intensive behavioral training to prepare them to respond safely in an unfamiliar setting - like a medical office. “I believe even animals have a purpose, and this breed is so well-suited for this,” observes Joan. “Coming here can be stressful for families. Encountering a dog is a joyful surprise, it distracts from the intensity. And it’s healing for me too – I have conversations with patients and caregivers about dogs and families and life. Just like I did with my father.”
Kim smiles as she pets Brodie. “It’s therapeutic for everyone.”