Czechs becoming more familiar with dogs that help people

Almost everyone knows about seeing-eye dogs. However, many people are unaware that dogs also can be valuable assistants to people with disabilities. Also, most people would be shocked to see a dog, cat, or any other animal for that matter, in a hospital. However, the use of canine therapy and canine assistants, both globally and in the Czech Republic, is one the rise. There is also a drive to introduce canine therapy and canine assistants to the next generation of health care service providers.

Some twenty young nurses and their dogs gathered in front of their school in Prague 10 on Wednesday as part of a demonstration of how dogs can help provide care to those who need it. Though the event was mostly planned as a fun morning for the young students, the organizers envisioned a higher calling: to introduce future health care givers to canine therapy. What is canine therapy you ask? Well, dog expert Vladimira Ticha explains:

"Canine therapy is a psychological and physical rehabilitation program that can be used on all types of patients, from the youngest to the oldest. It has a wide range of uses. It can help small children to develop their motor skills. The children can even learn to speak better with the dog's help. In older patients, the dogs can replace that necessary contact that they should have with their families but don't. It's said that in retirement homes that dogs operate in, the use of medication and the death rate decreases because the psychological aspect is very important and the dog doesn't care if you're sick or old or if you can't move well. He just sees someone who he loves."

Besides canine therapy, canine assistants for the physically and visually impaired were also presented to the young student nurses. What everyone knows as a seeing-eye dog has now grown up and become an entirely different animal. I talked to Jitka Vendrova about how her White Swiss Shepard Max helps her besides classic seeing-eye work.

"Opening and closing doors, turning on and off lights, helping me put on and take off my clothes, taking clothes out of the washer and carrying them onto the balcony. I'm visually impaired and psychologically, Max helps me because people don't have a problem communicating with us, talking to us and even petting Max. It's excellent for making new contacts and friends."

Zuzana Dausova, head of the Helppes group, which is one of the few groups in the Czech Republic that helps train all types of canine assistants, says that though the situation is improving, the financial aspects of training canine assistants is still a key question in the Czech Republic

"Everyone who sends us 50 or one hundred crowns becomes our sponsor. We understand that everyone has different income means and we are truly grateful for everything we receive. The state gives 210 thousands crown, or about 9,000 US dollars to the group that trained the dog and the client receives 800 crowns a month in the case of seeing-eye dogs. In the case of canine assistants, nothing is covered and the costs of purchasing the dog, food, training, kennel cost, veterinary costs, the pay of trainers is also not covered and we look for sponsors. So like I said, we accept all kinds of donations and are very grateful for them."

Despite the high costs and lack of funding, after witnessing the skill with which the dogs performed their duties, such as picking up mobile phones, opening and closing cabinets and even picking up keys, it's obvious that these dog's are truly man's, or women's best friend.