ALLERGY, RESPIRATORY
Folic Acid Might Offer Allergy Relief
Air Pollution May Raise Blood Pressure
Know Your Asthma Triggers
ALTERNATIVE MEDICINE
Awareness of Alternative Therapies May Be Lacking
Ginger Can Ease Nausea From Chemotherapy Treatments
Pharoah's Wine Jar Yields Medicinal Secrets
ANIMAL CARE
Safe Toys for Dogs
Beware of Dog Bites
'Comfort Dogs' Come to Emotional Rescue
BONES & JOINTS
A Winning Strategy to Beat Spring Sporting Injuries
Backpack Safety Should Be on Back-to-School Lists
Studies Struggle to Gauge Glucosamine's Worth
CANCER
Seaweed May Help Treat Lymphoma
Gene Screen May Predict Colon Cancer's Return
U.S. Reported 25,000 Cases of HPV-Related Cancers Annually
CAREGIVING
With Age Comes Greater Risk of Hypothermia
Medication Errors Could Be Cut: Experts
Study of Everest Climbers Questions Oxygen Use
CIRCULATORY SYSTEM
Support Network May Play Role in Benefits of Drinking
Mercury in Fish Linked to High Blood Pressure
A Brisk Pace May Keep Stroke at Bay
COSMETIC
The Acne Drug Accutane More Than Doubles Depression Risk
New Genetic Links to Baldness Discovered
What to Do If You Have Unsightly Veins
DENTAL, ORAL
Scientists Find Gene for Tooth Enamel
Gum Disease Treatment Doesn't Cut Preterm Birth Risk
Gummy Bears Join Cavity Fight
DIABETES
Chamomile Tea May Ward Off Diabetes Damage
Older Diabetics With Depression Face Higher Death Rate
Doctors Urged to Screen Diabetics for Sleep Apnea
DIET, NUTRITION
Coffee or Tea Consumption May Lower Stroke Risk
To Feel Better, Low-Fat Diet May Be Best
Eating Healthy : You Can Live Longer
DISABILITIES
Could Your Cell Phone Help Shield You From Alzheimer's?
Review Finds Marijuana May Help MS Patients
ENVIRONMENTAL HEALTH
Pesticides Linked to Parkinson's
Prenatal Exposure to Traffic Pollution May Lead to Asthma
Freckles, Moles May Indicate Risk for Eye Cancer
EYE CARE, VISION
When Corks Fly, Watch the Eyes
Americans Losing Sight of Eye Health
Eye Care Checkups Tied to Insurance Status
FITNESS
Eating Well And Keeping Active As You Grow Old Will Help You Stay Sharp
Super Bowl Loss Can 'Kill' Some Fans
Marathoners Go the Distance on Heart Health
GASTROINTESTINAL PROBLEMS
Gum Chewing May Speed Colon Surgery Recovery
New Yogurt May Ease Stomach Ulcers
Soothing Imagery May Help Rid Some Kids of Stomach Pain
GENERAL HEALTH
Chinese 'Devil Dung' Plant Could Be a Swine Flu Fighter
Kids More Apt to Smoke If Mom Did While Pregnant
Time to Remind Teens About Sun Protection
HEAD & NECK
Ski Helmets Encouraged for All
Many Children Will Outgrow Headaches
Zen May Thicken Brain, Thwart Pain
HEALTH & TECHNOLOGY
Subway Defibrillators Save Lives
E-Mailing Your Way to Healthier Habits
'Cell Phone Elbow' -- A New Ill for the Wired Age
HEARING
Noise Hurts Men's Hearing More, Study Shows
Summer Sounds Can Lead to Hearing Loss
HEART & CARDIOVASCULAR
A Little Alcohol May Help the Heart: Studies
Low Vitamin D Levels Linked to Heart Disease
Exercise May Blunt Salt's Effect on Hypertension
INFECTIOUS DISEASE
Surgical Masks Could Prevent Flu, Maybe
Viral Infection Might Trigger High Blood Pressure
Dry Weather Boosts Odds of Flu Outbreaks
INFERTILITY
Obesity May Affect Fertility in Young Womene
KID'S HEALTH
School Meals Need to Get Healthier
Time to Remind Teens About Sun Protection
Boosting Kids' Stroke IQ May Save Lives
MEN'S HEALTH
Sunlight May Help Protect Men From Kidney Cancer
Soy Linked to Low Sperm Count
Physical Activity May Prolong Survival After Colon Cancer
MENTAL HEALTH
Living Alone Increases Odds of Developing Dementia
The Acne Drug Accutane More Than Doubles Depression Risk
Estrogen May Help Men's Hearts
PAIN
Tai Chi May Help Ease Fibromyalgia
Acupuncture, Real or Fake, Eases Back Pain
Are We Exercising Pain Away? Not So Much.
PHYSICAL THERAPY
PREGNANCY
Exercise Boosts Bone Density in Breast-Feeding Moms
Before Conceiving, Take Folic Acid for One Full Year
Sleeping Could Help Women Lose The Baby Fat
SENIORS
Eating Well And Keeping Active As You Grow Old Will Help You Stay Sharp
Want Better Health in the New Year, Add Exercise to Your Day
Living Alone Increases Odds of Developing Dementia
SEXUAL HEALTH
SLEEP DISORDERS
Moderate Aerobics May Ease Insomnia Symptoms
Meditation May Help Put Primary Insomnia to Bed
Pay Attention to Signs That Say You're Too Fatigued to Drive
WOMEN'S HEALTH
Sugary Colas Tied to Gestational Diabetes
Health Tip: Be More Comfortable During Childbirth
Vitamin D Deficiency Puts 40% of U.S. Infants and Toddlers At Risk
Add your Article

'Comfort Dogs' Come to Emotional Rescue

Dogs perform lifesaving jobs every day. They sniff out bombs, locate lost children and even find people buried by avalanches.

Now another type of specially trained working dog has emerged in recent years. Comfort dogs come to the emotional rescue of people who are suffering in the aftermath of disasters or battling the difficulties of daily life.

Their job is deceptively simple: to get people to open up and talk about what happened.

Amy Rideout, president of HOPE Animal-Assisted Crisis Response, a national organization with more than 100 certified dog-handler teams, said engaging in a discussion about an experience is healing and helps a person to overcome a traumatic event.

There are other health benefits the pooches provide. Research has shown the simple act of petting a dog helps to lower blood pressure, lift spirits and reduce stress.

"There are not too many things that we can do that can make an instantaneous impact on somebody, so this is special work," she said.

To become certified with HOPE, dog-handler teams must go through 40 hours of basic training, then tackle specialized coursework such as learning crisis intervention skills and the FEMA (Federal Emergency Management Agency) incident command system, as well as participating in mock disaster drills. Dogs are painstakingly desensitized to sights, sounds and smells typically encountered during a disaster. And all teams are recertified yearly.

Members of HOPE have responded to some of the decade's worst tragedies, including Hurricane Katrina and the Virginia Tech school shootings.

After 9/11, Rideout and her hound, Janie, were sent to a family assistance center in New York City to support families who had lost a loved one. But surprisingly, she said, it was the stressed-out emergency responders who seemed to need her and Janie the most.

"Those were the folks who would come up to Janie and give her a big bear hug and say, 'Thank you. I needed that before I went back to work today,'" she recalled.

Not all comfort dogs are used to help people emotionally cope after disaster strikes.

Meet Fuerst. Every weekday morning around 9 a.m., Pastor Tim Engel drives his faithful canine partner to work at Holy Cross Lutheran Church in Portage, Ind.

Fuerst is one of nearly 30 Golden Retrievers permanently placed at churches throughout Indiana and Illinois by Lutheran Church Charities, a national ministry.

"His job is to help open up opportunities for conversations and Christian ministry that otherwise wouldn't happen," explained Engel.

The retriever has been at Holy Cross for a little more than a year now.

Fuerst -- the German word for prince -- goes everywhere with pastor Engel, from visiting nursing homes and emergency hospital rooms to attending Sunday service.

"Not everybody sees the value of [Fuerst] like I do," he admits. "But the majority of the members look forward to seeing him on Sunday morning and they understand his function in our church."

Like others in the K9 Parish Comfort Dog Ministry, Fuerst has his own business card. On the front are his picture and the church's phone number; on the back is his job description. The business cards are frequently handed out in the community, he said.

On occasion, people have phoned the church to schedule a private meeting with Fuerst -- and only Fuerst.

Engel laughs recalling some of those requests but insists that he isn't offended.

"If the dog provides comfort for people and is something that makes them feel more at ease then the dog is doing his job," he said.

SOURCES: Amy Rideout, president, HOPE Animal-Assisted Crisis Response; Timothy Engel, pastor, Holy Cross Lutheran Church, Portage, Ind.

Last Updated: March 18, 2010