Dogs are known to have a soothing effect on people. It’s no wonder that there is a concept called ‘comfort dog’. Recently, a bunch of golden retrievers was flown to Orlando, Florida to soothe the survivors and grievers of the mass shooting that happened at the gay nightclub, Pulse. This group of dogs is called K-9 Comfort Dogs, an Illinois based team. Tim Hetzner is the president of the group, who willingly agreed to send his beloved dogs to Orlando. He says that when someone depressed pet the dogs, they “start smiling and in a couple of cases, they started talking as much as they could.”
Northeastern University’s Lisa Feldman Barrett is a distinguished psychology professor. She understands exactly why any dog has such an effect on the people, especially on those who have undergone a particular tragedy which still hurts them. As a response, Barrett says, “Humans are a social species. What that means is that we regulate each other’s nervous systems just by being around each other, and animals—dogs, cats, my daughter’s very affectionate guinea pig—can do the same for us”. Caring for a pet helps calm down our nervous systems.
Upon being asked about why dogs are used as comfort animals, and not cats, Barrett gives quite an interesting answer. “Dogs are not animals that have evolved through natural selection. We’ve bred dogs to be the way they are. We selected them to have certain features that are useful to us, including very expressive eyes and, their most noted feature, unconditional love”. Humans might have carried on artificial breeding of other animals, but dogs are those animals we have domesticated the most.
Barrett feels that sending these dogs to Orlando was a necessary step. “Uncertainty wreaks havoc on our nervous systems, and Orlando is now the site of extreme uncertainty”. There are many experiments proving how animal-assisted therapy is beneficial for people. Dogs are fundamentally dependent – like toddlers even – they grow seriously attached to their humans, getting anxious when they are all alone. Orlando needed these dogs because not only do they help calm your nervous system, but they are also regulating theirs.