15 July 2016

Therapy Dogs Help Olympic Trial Swimmers

The swimmers weren’t the only ones working at the U.S. Olympic Team Trials in Omaha, Nebraska this last week.

Over 1700 swimmers met to compete for a spot on the U.S. team heading to Rio for the 2016 Summer Olympics in August, and about 30 therapy dogs were brought in to help out.
Although most of the athletes didn’t have a chance at a spot, all of them felt the pressure of the event. It’s the only qualifying meet for the U.S. Olympic Swim Team, and even for the swimmers who don’t make the Olympic team it’s an important opportunity to experience big-league competition.
It’s all pretty stressful, which is why Morgan Weinberg, the program and services manager for USA Swimming, got in touch with Domesti-PUPS to bring in the service dogs.
The pups hung out in the athletes lounge, waiting to spring into action for the athletes. (“Spring into action,” in this case, often meant rolling over for a tummy rub or snuggling up for a cuddle.) The dogs worked three-hour shifts, four at a time, so that there were always dogs available in the lounge during the morning preliminaries and all but the last evening final.
Therapy dogs are showing up more and more in high-pressure environments like the swim meet, or in University libraries during finals week.
Domesti-PUPS is just one of many organizations that provide therapy dogs for a variety of situations, from hospitals, hospices, and physical therapy settings to classrooms, schools, and homes.
The non-profit organization even has dogs specifically trained for being petted, since bonding with an animal can sometimes be easier for people than bonding with other people.
Sandy Ludwig, who works with Domesti-PUPS, told The New York Times, “Anywhere there's an elevated level of stress, we can take our dogs and try to de-stress them."
An all-or-nothing meet, with the potential to send an athlete to the Olympics or send them back home, is definitely an environment full of elevated stress, and the pups did their jobs helping the athletes stay calm and focused.

By Tiffany Sostar
Tiffany is a writer, editor, academic, and animal lover who came late to her appreciation of pets. At 18, a rescue pup named Tasha saved her from a depression and she hasn't looked back. She has worked as the canine behaviour program coordinator for the Calgary Humane Society, and was a dog trainer specializing in working with fearful and reactive dogs for many years. She doesn't have any pets right now, but makes up for it by giving her petsitting clients (and any dogs she comes across on her frequent coffee shop adventures) extra snuggles.

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