A journalist separates fact from fiction about what canines can do to aid human health.
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The Healing Power of Dogs
For centuries, dogs have helped people by herding sheep, guarding their homes, and offering them unconditional love—but dogs also have the ability to save lives. In PAWS & EFFECT: The Healing Power of Dogs (Spiegel & Grau / Random House), Sharon Sakson, journalist and champion dog breeder, offers illuminating real-life stories of how our canine companions are playing beneficial roles in the lives of people struggling with chronic diseases and mental and physical disabilities.
Sharon Sakson’s investigation took her to academic institutions, veterinarians’ offices, dog breeders, charitable organizations, and even the military—where she discovered documentation for what so many of us have already experienced in our own lives—that the loving presence of a dog can avert, transport us through, and provide natural, holistic relief from the daily struggles suffered by those living with the limitations imposed by mental and physical illness. Most importantly, Sakson’s investigation reviews the science behind the credence to claims of dogs’ healing powers and supplies us with overwhelming anecdotal evidence from the hearts and lives of these healing dogs and their owners.
Other compelling examples include:
- In Panama City, Florida, Pets Are Working Saints (PAWS) provides canine company to those in hospice care. When a Yorkie named Sophie starting visiting Jake, his terminal cancer went into remission and his health miraculously improved.
- In Berkshire, England, Mike Holman’s pet Labrador Retriever, Parker, used his sense of smell to alert Mike to a patch of skin on his owner’s leg that he thought was nothing more than eczema. After a medical examination, doctors found the spot to be basal cell carcinoma cancer and were able to remove it long before it could be detected by medical screening.
- In Alpharetta, Georgia, Canine Assistants pairs seizure response dogs with at-risk owners. When a Labrador-Golden Retreiver named London, senses that his owner, Mitch Peterson, is about to seizure, the dog uses a magnet in his collar to activate a pacemaker-like device inside Mitch that allays or prevents his seizure from happening.
- In San Diego, CA, Nancy Gordon’s organization “Xolos for Chronic Pan Relief” pairs small, Mexican Hairless dogs with people living with arthritis and fibromyalgia. Science has shown that physical contact with the dogs can block transmission of pain from the central nervous system and provide some of the best and most natural relief available.
In a new Afterword, Sakson shows that through grass-roots support and increased charitable and scientific funding, the research and training of more support dogs will continue to grow and benefit society at large. She revisits many of the amazing dogs and owners she first encountered to see how they are now doing and even finds a new believer in the most unlikely of individuals—a New York finance executive who experienced first-hand the astonishing power of the canine-owner bond. When his elderly mother fell alone in her apartment and broke her hip, her pet Shih Tzu not only provided the woman with blankets to keep her warm, but also alerted neighbors who helped arrange the call for the ambulance that rescued her.
The message of PAWS & EFFECT is clear and uncomplicated—dogs are not only faithful and intuitive companions, but also on a deeper level, spiritual guides whose resilience, intelligence, affability, courage, and perseverance both model and support healthy living. Seamlessly weaving research and narrative, Sakson redefines and breathes new life into the age-old connection between human and dog—a bond that is proving to be limitless.
About the Author
Sharon Sakson is a journalist and television producer who has worked for ABC, NBC, CBS, Court TV, the Food Network, and local stations in Baltimore, Chicago, and San Francisco. She graduated from Georgetown University and earned an M.F.A. in creative writing from The New School. She is the author of Paws to Protect: Dogs Saving Lives and Restoring Hope, Brussels Griffons: A Complete Pet Owner’s Manual, and co-authored, with Neil Plakcy, Paws and Reflect: A Special Bond between Man and Dog. She is an American Kennel Club dog show judge and a breeder of champion Whippets and Brussels Griffons. Sharon lives in Princeton, New Jersey.