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Therapy Dogs Help Calm People

April 3, 2020

Is Capitol Hill going to the dogs?

The vote is still out, but on the first day of the public impeachment hearings in November, 15 certified therapy dogs and their handlers went to work in Washington D.C. Among them were two Samoyeds, 12-year-old Zamboni, and 8-year-old Spumoni, and Mac, a 4-year-old Boerboel.

Unlike lobbyists who visit the nation’s lawmakers to promote their corporate agendas, these calming canines came solely to provide comfort, stress relief, and cuddles.

Twice a year, Pet Partners and the Pet Industry Joint Advisory Council (PIJAC) send the teams to Washington to provide stress relief and ease anxiety among lawmakers. Pet Partners registers therapy dogs for animal-assisted interventions, and PIJAC is an advocacy group for responsible pet care. This time around, visiting day serendipitously ended up falling on an especially anxiety-inducing day for many in the capitol.

“It takes four to six months to book our appointment here, so this visit happened to land on the same day as the opening hearing,” says PIJAC President and CEO Mike Bober.

More than 100 staffers and visitors dropped into the “Meet the Pets” event in the Rayburn and Hart office buildings. There, they learned first-hand about the human-animal bond and what makes therapy dogs so special.

During the four-hour stint, members of Congress from both parties came by to give the dogs belly rubs and receive lots of love. Visitors included Rep. Greg Gianforte (MT), Rep. Kendra Horn (OK), Rep. Cheri Bustos (IL), Rep. Alan Lowenthal (CA), and Rep. Peter Defazio (OR).

“The responses to the dogs are always positive,” says Bober. “The staffers walk into the room and their faces show the stress they must be feeling. But the moment they see a dog, they light up.”

Lisa Marino first joined Pet Partners in 1998. These days, she takes her fluffy white Samoyeds to interact with middle school children several times a week. This most recent Capitol Hill visit for Marino and her 50-pound, snow-white therapy dogs marked a special anniversary for Zamboni.

“Zamboni is two years’ post-op for her bladder cancer surgery,” says Marino. “She took time off from her therapy work, but returned without missing a beat.”

According to Marino, therapy dog visits help to give everyone an emotional reset. This crucial component of the work she does with her dogs was on full display in a fraught environment like Capitol Hill, where emotions are constantly running high.

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