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Featured Author

Dawn A. Marcus, MD Author of: The Power of Wagging Tails: A Doctor’s Guide to Dog Therapy and Healing

By Dawn A. Marcus, MD, Professor, Dept of Anesthesiology, University of Pittsburgh

Doctors know a lot: how your body’s put together, how the mind and body influence each other, and how to fight many diseases. I got my best education about how to really connect with patients by holding the end of my soft-coated Wheaten Terrier therapy dog’s leash. He offers no sentiments, advice, or explanations. By simply reveling in the moment of connecting with a stranger, he produces profound transformations more powerful than most pills can achieve. I may have the title and initials after my name, but my therapy dogs are truly the experts connecting with people in need. They take away fears, stress, and sadness with a seemingly simple smile, thoughtful gaze, and wagging tail. I’ve always been a skeptic. And when our volunteer coordinator spoke to us new therapy dog handlers about getting started, I was convinced she was exaggerating the impact these dogs would make. Dogs are cute and hard to resist, but how can they give more than a moment’s distraction or temporary smile? The first therapy dog visit I made with Wheatie opened my eyes to the incredible power behind the therapy dog’s wagging tail. Sarah had pretty disfiguring surgery to the side of her face as part of her cancer treatment, and visitors had started avoiding her room. Wheatie looked passed Sarah’s wounds and simply saw a wonderful new friend. Sarah’s

surgery had made her speech difficult to understand, but Wheatie didn’t care. As she grabbed his beard and shared her secrets, he didn’t need her to repeat what she’d said or pause so he could add in his own stories. For ten minutes, Sarah sat nose to snout with Wheatie, gently caressing him and casting her stress and burdens onto him. And for those precious moments, Sarah was no longer a cancer patient—she was simply Wheatie’s new best friend. Wheatie’s eyes told Sarah how terrific he knew she was and how glad he was to share time with her that afternoon. That visit and our later ones to Sarah brightened her hospital stay and changed how I looked at my dog. As a scientist, I began to scour the literature for research seeing if science could prove my suspicions were right— that my volunteer coordinator was spot on and there really is a healing power that happens when a therapy dog enters your room and your life. Medical study after study confirmed what I was seeing with my dog—seemingly ordinary visits from a seemingly ordinary dog were doing the extraordinary. Stress was reduced, pain lessened, and patients became healthier after 10-minute visits with a therapy dog. Hearing story after story from other therapy dog handlers witnessing similar healing benefits from their dogs visiting children through seniors helped to reinforce what I learned was

true—there’s something about a dog in the room that has incredible healing power. There’s a lot our dogs can teach us about health, caring, and healing. That’s the power of the wagging tail. Visit to purchase a copy of The Power of Wagging Tails: A Doctor’s Guide to Dog Therapy and Healing.

Photo courtesy of Natalie Larocco

For more information please visit: Dr. Marcus’ library at: Get daily health & fitness tips at: Become a friend on Facebook at: “Dawn A Marcus”

The American Dog Magazine | Fall 2011    107  

Profile for The American Dog Magazine