Therapy Dogs are Valuable in a Variety of Settings

Husband and Wife:

Dr. Sara Sue Schaeffer, LPC, LMFT, ACS

Dr. Schaeffer has nearly 30 years of experience as a counselor in private practice, clinical supervisor, school counselor, counselor educator, and hospital administrator.  She was the first chair of the Michigan Board of Counseling and is past president of the Michigan Counseling Association.


Dr. Donald Amidon, LPC, LMFT, ACS

Dr. Amidon has served as a counselor, marriage and family therapist, clinical supervisor, navy chaplain, and hospital service chief for over 30 years.  He is an

ordained minister and has served as board president for Hospice and Visiting

                                     Nurse programs.

Sara Sue Schaeffer and Donald Amidon are owners of Sturgis Consultation Center.


Question: I understand that you use therapy dogs in your practice. Is this true? How does it work?

Answer: Therapy dogs have been an important part of our practice for over 15 years. Not only have they helped us with patients in our office, but have worked with us as Red Cross volunteers to help military families, supported breast cancer patients, visited patients in nursing homes, and been “presenters” at a program on pet-assisted therapy at the Michigan Counseling Association’s annual conference.


Therapy dogs work in a variety of settings in addition to psychotherapy offices and nursing homes including schools, hospitals, courtrooms and prisons.
American Humane Association defines animal-assisted therapy, or AAT, as “a goal-directed intervention in which an animal is incorporated as an integral part of the clinical health-care treatment process. AAT is delivered or directed by a professional health or human service provider who demonstrates skill and expertise regarding the clinical applications of human-animal interactions.“


Cynthia Chandler is a counseling professor at the University of North Texas, Center for Animal-Assisted Therapy’s founder and director and the author of “Animal Assisted Therapy in Counseling.” Chandler shares a study that showed working with a therapy dog resulted in a significant drop in stress hormones such as cortisol, adrenaline and aldosterone and an increase in “health inducing and social inducing” hormones such as oxytocin, dopamine and endorphins after 20 minutes with a therapy dog.


Other studies show that the use of therapy dogs benefits heart patients and lowers of blood pressure, helps autistic children with relationship skills, and reduces anxiety for patients undergoing MRI and for children and adults involved in court proceedings, and reduces depression in the elderly with dementia.


Chandler believes the key to these positive benefits is an increase in the hormone oxytocin, which she describes as “one of the best, most powerful, wonderful, healthy social hormones we have and it’s the one that’s the most grossly affected in a positive way through human-animal interaction.”


We have seen firsthand the healing value of animals as we have worked with our therapy dogs. When our first therapy dogs, Amber, a cocker spaniel, and Lacey, a toy poodle, died, we were so touched by the many messages from people whose lives they touched, sharing with us what a positive difference they made.

Our newest therapy dog is our toy poodle, Lexi, who has just earned her therapy dog credentials. She joins big sister and fellow therapy dog Carly, our Cavalier King Charles Spaniel.