We all know of dogs who assist those who are blind, deaf or mentally or physically disabled and many of you will be familiar also with Pets as Therapy dogs that visit hospitals, hospices, old people's homes etc and bring a great deal of joy in the process.
But Chile and now Spain are two countries that have taken the idea a little further. Fundacion Bocalan is a programme that uses dogs to help children who have suffered sexual or physical abuse or, perhaps have witnessed a crime. The objective is to protect the child throughout the lengthy and at times, daunting, justice process and to help obtain declarations in a friendly manner.
To start with, the child waits to be interviewed with or without its parents; a traumatic experience in itself. This is where the dog comes in. The child is shown how to care for the dog and perhaps learn some training tricks, all of which help to distract the child and reduce their understandable feelings of fear and anxiety.
The next stage comes when the child takes the dog by the lead and they make their way together to the interview room.
During the actual interview, when the dog lies beside the child, often with its head in his/her lap, all the attention is focused on the questions asked and information obtained. The dog must remain completely passive to avoid any possible allegations of influencing the childs behaviour.
Personally, I think this is an exciting development and one which I hope the UK will follow up. I have given only a very limited description of the work involved but if your Spanish is good and you are interested in learning more, go to www.bocalan.es
Also on the subject of Spain and assistance dogs, there is currently a pilot programme in Barcelona to help those with Alzheimer's. Initially five dogs will be trained to help their owners return home when they become disorientated and also help in the case of falls or recovering objects - thus enabling patients to retain their independence and hence, quality of life, a little longer.