Even though National Assistance Dog Week officially ended on August 15, we are still finding plenty of reasons to celebrate our extraordinary connection with our canine friends. The Trib Local for Park Ridge, IL, recently ran a story about an incredible group of dogs who are helping patients undergoing cancer treatment.

The story focused on three dogs — Jersey, Sam and Chiquita — who, as part of Chicago-based Canine Therapy Corps, visit with patients before their cancer treatments, which seems to have a calming effect on the patients, offering them a little joy in difficult circumstances.

Canine Therapy dogs are trained to help in both treatment and rehabilitation processes. According to their Website, Animal-assisted therapy “is designed to promote improvement in physical, emotional and cognitive functions.”  The program is different than organizations that train and provide service or facility dogs, focusing instead on the unique role that animal-human bonds can play in healing. Their mission is to provide programs that “motivate participants to continue to work toward their goals of improved physical and mental health, emotional growth and personal dignity … We don’t just make people feel better, we help them get better.”

Specially trained animals are also being used as part of the palliative care offered by hospice programs. “Studies have shown that animal-assisted therapy can help patients relax and relieve muscle tension,” said the Penelope Gabriele, a bereavement and program development coordinator for Advocate Hospice. Petting an animal can help lower blood pressure, decrease anxiety and reduce depression, as well as distracting patients from pain. You can read more about these “Healing Paws” here.

The Delta Society is another program that trains animals — all kinds of animals — to provide companionship and comfort to people confronting end of life issues, helping patients recovering from serious addictions or chronic illnesses, and even bringing a little normalcy and joy to women and children in battered women’s shelters.

Studies have shown that interacting with pets on a regular basis can improve the quality of life for seniors and even prolong it. I’m not a doctor or a therapist, but I have seen many of the benefits of human-animal relationships first hand. My staff members, volunteers and I have taken many Animal Store animals to visit area senior citizen centers, nursing homes, and residences for people with profound mental and physical disabilities. The connection is often immediate and incredible to behold.

In honor of our loving and dedicated pets, we are extending the discount we offered during National Assistance Dog Week through the end of August. Just mention this post for 25% off any dog treats, toys or supplies*.

If you are thinking about getting a companion animal for someone you know, ask them first, and then ask us about which animals would be best suited to the situation and environment. As always, we’d love to hear from you — just leave a comment to share your story.

*Offer good on white tags only and valid through August 31, 2009