I’ve always been a “dog person.” I’ve seen firsthand the positive impact pets can have on a person’s life: my husband and I have two dogs who provide us with constant joy and companionship. These days, when social distancing is the norm and many people are feeling lonely or isolated, the positive impact of having a pet is more obvious than ever. In fact, a recent survey found that 33% of Americans have considered fostering or adopting a furry friend since the COVID-19 outbreak began, and 89% of respondents said their dogs and cats help them feel less lonely at this time.
Our dog Londi, an energetic and affectionate golden retriever, is the perfect example of the comfort pets can provide. We knew early on that she was special because of the way she interacted with those who needed some extra support. When we moved to our current home, Londi was immediately drawn to our elderly neighbor, which made us a little nervous at first—Londi is a big dog and we didn’t want her to jump all over her. But, Londi seemed to know, instinctively, that our neighbor needed a furry friend, and approached her gently and playfully. Our neighbor, a widow who loves dogs but could no longer care for her own, was thrilled. We started arranging weekly visits for them and it was incredible to see the happiness and calm that Londi provided for this woman, simply by sitting with her.
I believed Londi would be an amazing therapy dog, but I didn’t really know anything about what it would take to have her certified. Therapy dogs, unlike service dogs, are not trained to perform specific tasks, like helping a blind person cross the street. Their purpose is to provide emotional support and comfort to those in need. They visit hospitals, assisted living centers, schools, offices, and more. Scientific research shows that animal-assisted therapy not only improves mental and emotional well-being, but it also offers physical health benefits like lowering blood pressure and reducing physical pain. After learning about the countless ways these dogs can help humans, I was sure Londi was meant to be one of them.
At the same time, EmblemHealth was building a partnership with The Good Dog Foundation, an organization that has provided therapy dog services to people in health care, social service, educational, and community facilities in New York since 1998. We saw their work in action when they came to an employee appreciation event at EmblemHealth’s offices last year. After seeing the comfort they brought to our employees, I knew that we had to partner with them for our members, as well. We’ve worked to bring their teams to classes and events at our EmblemHealth Neighborhood Care locations to be a source of support and joy to our members.
After seeing the tremendous impact the Good Dog Foundation had on our employees and members, my husband and I decided that he and Londi would start training to become a certified therapy dog and handler. Since completing their certification last year, they’ve gone around New York City helping others to heal, relax, and just feel supported – they even regularly stopped by our EmblemHealth Neighborhood Care events! And, although it might be a while before Londi can see all her friends at in-person events again, she’s been a great source of joy and comfort to us these past few months. Her smile (yes, she smiles) is infectious when people see her on the street. I’ve always believed that pets are family, and I know I’m not the only one who feels that way – why else would EmblemHealth offer pet health insurance?
We’re continuing to support The Good Dog Foundation’s work by sponsoring their annual Howl-o-ween Extravaganza. This year’s virtual event (for humans and pets) will take place the night of October 31st and will feature entertainment from Broadway actors, games for kids and wine tastings for adults, and a costume dance party. Learn more about the event here: thegooddogfoundation.org/howloween.
Beth Leonard is Chief Marketing & Communications Officer of EmblemHealth.