(Feature image: Furrerbies)
With its increased popularity today, and the government's corresponding efforts to accommodate this particular group of individuals in society, it's no surprise that you're seeing a lot more dogs assisting the disabled in the streets of Singapore.
Animal-assisted therapy, quite apparent from its name, is a form of therapy that involves animals as a form of rehabilitation or treatment for humans, the goal of which is to improve a patient's social, emotional or cognitive functioning. Contrary to popular belief, animal-assisted therapies aren't just for the visually impaired, or senior citizens. You will be surprised at the number of youth tapping on this form of therapy today.
For the blind
The number of guide dogs in Singapore have been gaining traction in the last couple of years, with an increased number of public bodies warming up to the idea of them. Gone are the days of NO PETS ALLOWED in malls and eateries now that people are recognizing the importance of such animals in the daily lives of the visually (and sometimes physically) impaired.
Awareness for the need for seeing-eye dogs in some Singaporean households was properly raised in 2005 (even though the first certified guide dog to arrive in Singapore was in 1982. He had to be sent back to Australia because of inadequate support and laws). Seeing-eye dogs truly bring hope to the blind as means for regaining independence and confidence. In addition, the companionship of a fellow living, breathing being is something a white cane could never provide.
In a way, these canines can be seen as providing not just a service but a friendship in a visually-impaired person's dark and lonely world. In Singapore, the Guide Dogs Association of the Blind (GDAB) has been advocating for more awareness of such needs. They are registered with the National Council of Social Services, a non-profit voluntary welfare organisation that desires to integrate guide dogs seamlessly into society. They are working very hard to ensure situations like the rejection of Esme the guide dog from malls are minimized significantly.
For the elderly
Elderly care home residents living with the impacts of strokes or dementia typically experience loneliness and depression in their twilight years. Therapy Dogs Singapore (TDS) recognizes this, and hopes to plug such a hole (that is, the shortage of people that can help with accompanying said folks) in the industry with none other than dogs. It is a voluntary organization conducts regular pet therapy visits eldercare facilities, amongst other places. During a TDS visit, these seniors benefit from simple activities such as petting or brushing a dog, and playing simple games of fetch.
For the youth
The same is true for the youth. Specifically, therapy dogs seek to aid in the rehabilitation and therapeutic relief of autistic youth and youth debilitated by social, emotional or psychological issues, or just shy kids in general. TDS purports to provide children with autism opportunities to learn about routine and emotional regulation without the pressure of communicative speech.
Another organization associated with animal-assisted therapy is called Pawsibility. They subscribe to what is known as 'social emotional learning' for children from dogs. This, for them, refers to the "acquisition of skills to recognize and manage emotions, develop care and concern for others, make responsible decisions, establish positive relationships, and handle challenging situations effectively", which they believe is important for the growth and functioning of young people.
They work to improve kids' social, communication and anger-management skills, as well as responsibility and empathy amongst others. They also provide a special counselling service that gives youth aged 4-20 years old an outlet to express themselves. This is especially helpful with extremely shy children and those who have difficulty opening up after, for example, an accident or a debilitating social disorder.