Every Therapy Dog Has His Day – Addiction Treatment

addiction therapy dog


Therapy Dog …

I’m not exactly a dog person. In fact Santino, the Sanford therapy dog, and I have an unwritten “hands off” policy. In other words, I don’t pat his belly or give him full body hugs. He doesn’t lick my face. We usually just ignore each other companionably. But last week, Santino was left in my charge (something he was clearly a bit worried about). When it became obvious I was all he had, he came into my office and plunked down on the rug with a sigh.


The Grinch Thaws a Bit…

I continued to work and ignored him for a while. But I found myself looking over the edge of my desk to see if he was okay. There is something profound that takes place when you are responsible for the care of a dog.Even a therapy dog. Santino has this look – a sort of soft, furrowed brow, glance up, glance down, heartbreaking look. It makes me feel, in equal parts, protected and responsible.


And there’s the rub. A therapy dog is designed and trained to evoke exactly those emotions. He gives nonjudgmental comfort along with the expectation of loving care. It works wonders in hospitals, addiction treatment centers and in the offices of busy marketing professionals. I rooted around in the cupboard for dog cookies. Sit Santino. Good Boy… And in a short hour or two Santino and I reached a separate peace.


What is a Therapy Dog?

A therapy dog’s job is to bring comfort, affection and distraction to people in confined living situations. Therapy dogs also assist people with learning difficulties and anxiety. They work with medical professionals who provide mental and physical therapy to their clients. And therapy dogs bring comfort to people recovering from illness, crisis, trauma and the negative effects of drug and alcohol addiction. They offer unconditional acceptance to all those they encounter.


The Healing Effects…

Spending time with a therapy dog produces marked improvements in human beings. It positively affects their emotional well being. It has also been known to improve the physical, mental, and social aspects of their lives. At Sanford, we have many examples of clients who respond to Santino before they are prepared to respond to people. Communing with an animal can be the first step in the re-connection to family and friends.

There are many benefits to being with a therapy dog, including:

  • A decrease in stress and anxiety
  • A marked decrease in depression, loneliness and feelings of isolation
  • Therapy dogs make you feel happier
  • You start to realize an outward focus – it feels great to take care of someone/something and do it well
  • There is positive mental stimulation
  • And perhaps most importantly, for the recovering person, there is an increase in self-esteem and the feeling of acceptance and social involvement.


Being with a therapy dog makes you feel better – here’s why:

  • Studies show that communing with an animal can decrease blood pressure and heart rate
  • And like a walk on a beautiful day, being with a dog decreases the stress hormone cortisol
  • It increases hormones associated with health and well-being such as beta-endorphin, dopamine and serotonin
  • Taking care of a dog can stimulate a person to get some well needed exercise – go for a walk
  • There is an improvement in fine motor skills, balance and other physical skills when handling an animal.
  • There is a sense of accomplishment. Sit Santino. Good dog…


I can’t say Santino and I are like Lassie and Timmy now. More like The Grinch and Max… But I fully understand his value. And that’s the most important thing for colleagues to appreciate – the skills each bring to the table to make an organization better. To make our clients more successful in their recovery…


So, when we approached Santino last week with a Burberry scarf and a camera, he acquiesced. Until the snow got the best of him…


That’s MY scarf…



after marilyn head shot bio

Marilyn Spiller is a viral writer, recovery coach, and recovery advocate. She is the Marketing Director at Sanford, responsible for written and creative content, website design, new media, promotions, subscriber outreach, and SEO. Excursions Magazine is a particular source of pride; it serves a wide range of readers, and “excursion” has become part of the company vernacular, describing Sanford’s signature experiential outings for those in treatment. She also developed and hosts the podcast Anatomy of Addiction and is Vice President of the Board of JACK Mental Health Advocacy.