By Heather Clower
The Parsons Advocate
With the right training and some good luck, a lot of dogs can become therapy companions for a variety of individuals. Most commonly thought of helping the vision impaired, dogs can also be used for assisting those with physical limitations, diabetes, those living with epilepsy, and individuals suffering from emotional challenges as well. In this particular case, fate and love had a lot to do with it.
Melissa Burns, daughter of Steve and Trina Carr of St. George, is a 2012 graduate of Tucker County High School and continued her education at West Virginia University. From there she graduated in 2016 with a Bachelors of Science in Speech Pathology and Audiology followed by a Master’s of Science in 2018 in Speech-Language Pathology.
Burns is now a Speech Language Pathologist with Odyssey Rehabilitation, which is contracted with Good Samaritan of Barbour County. “There I work with patients that have cognitive-linguistic, speech, communication, and swallowing disorders,” Burns explained. “The common goal in therapy is to maximize each patient’s functionality in their environment.” But she doesn’t work alone most days, two to three days a week, she is accompanied by Mason, a five year old Labrador mix Burns rescued from a Craigslist posting.
Recalling the ad, Burns said the former owners claimed then three month old Mason was too hyper for their living situation and he needed more room to run. “Needless to say, he slept through most of his puppyhood,” laughed Burns. She recollected how quickly Mason picked up on his training and tricks that she, her roommates, her boyfriend (now husband Andrew Burns), and parents did with him on a regular basis. “He actually went to work with me during my student job in college as well,” she added. “He’s just a naturally calm tempered, well behaved dog.”
Mason tags along several days a week with Burns to assist with her therapeutic work with the residents at the Good Samaritan. “Mason brings joy and happiness to the patients, there are smiles all around when he trots down the hall,” Burns stated, “He connects with people in a special way.” She further elaborated how he can be used in situations where some patients may not be as open to human contact, but welcomes the opportunity to be in the presence of Mason. “People that may be rather quiet speak out when Mason is around,” she explained. “He also helps with therapy goals targeting memory, word finding, sequencing, and socialization to name a few. He also serves as a positive reward at the end of a therapy session.”
According to uclahealth.org research findings, animal assisted therapy consists of many benefits backed by research and science. Their notes state benefits for mental health include lowering anxiety, aids in relaxation, provides comfort, reduces loneliness, increases mental stimulation, and acts as a catalyst in the therapy process to name a few. For physical health, the findings were with animal assisted therapy lowers blood pressure and improves cardiovascular health, reduces medication needs in some people, diminishes overall physical pain, aids in relaxation during exercises, and slows respiration rates in anxious individuals to name a few.
Mason’s arsenal of tricks includes sit, speak, stay, lie down, roll over, high five, shake and spin in a circle. Of course, there’s no special name or command for just the pure joy and happiness a pet of any kind can bring a person. Thom Jones sums up this entire article with his famous quote about four legged, barking friends. He said, “Dogs have a way of finding the people who need them, and filling the emptiness we didn’t ever know we had.” If that isn’t proof enough, I will leave you with this final thought by Dean Koontz. “Petting, scratching, and cuddling a dog could be as soothing to the mind as deep meditation and almost as good for the soul as prayer.”