Angel on a Leash: Therapy Dogs and the Lives They Touch
By: David Frei
Publisher: Bowtie Press
Publication Date: November 2011
Reviewed by: Holly Weiss
Review Date: July 16, 2012
The Angel on a Leash program began modestly in 2005 spreading to the Ronald McDonald House, major cancer hospitals and health care facilities because of generous funding. The program trains therapy dogs. This inspiring book describes how the dog-human bond is used to bring joy and healing to people in emotional and physical pain. Dogs have spontaneity and show unconditional love, making them perfect for therapy. Love and trust between people and dogs are life lessons taught over and over within these pages. Interacting with a dog, by petting or just looking into its eyes, increases your endorphins, which makes you feel better. Studies such as one in the American Journal of Cardiology state that owners make less frequent doctor visits and take fewer medications than non-owners.
What makes a good therapy dog? Inborn temperament—accepting, positive and tolerant—along with obedience training and the ability to withstand difficult situations. Assessing a dog’s people preference (quiet senior citizens versus active children) coupled with giving it the freedom to be itself result in the perfect therapy team. The book makes a clear distinction between a service dog, which has access to anywhere its person goes, and a therapy dog. A service dog is trained by a coach and then devotes itself to one human partner. Therapy dogs, generally accompanied by a handler, work in health care facilities with many people to promote well-being. They undergo orientation and background checks before entering a facility. Strict protocols to protect patient and dog alike are followed.
David Frei is described as the most knowledgeable mind in the canine field. Gushing from the pages of this book are both his love for dogs and belief in their healing powers. The book’s Forward says, “When a dog wags his tail, it is connected to his heart.” The author invites you to hug your dog before you read the book. Then he thanks his canine friends for letting him be the person holding the other end of the leash.
This inspiring book describes many instances of healing stemming from the unconditional love of canines. The author’s enthusiasm and sincerity leap off the pages. The book sports photos of “Angel on a Leash” dogs with schoolchildren, cancer patients and babies. One of the most poignant elements is a love letter to the dogs from a nine-year old boy. The stars of the book, Teigh, Belle and their successors, Grace and Angel, will make you chuckle and weep. Two quadriplegic brothers smile broadly while their parents cry for joy during a visit with Teigh. Brushing a dog as a means of doing painful range-of-motion exercise eases a girl’s suffering. Petting a furry friend helps a soldier with PTSD open up to the people around him.
The author’s many personal recollections detract from his message about healing dogs, but give credibility to his experience. His writing is most effective when he plunges into the touching stories of therapy dogs and the humans they help.
Quill says: Laugh, cry and learn as you read this heart-warming book about angels with four legs miraculously improving people’s lives.