Therapy Animals Get Well-Earned Praise at the Blessing of the Dogs
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Therapy Animals Get Well-Earned Praise at the Blessing of the Dogs

Sometimes, a pat on the head just isn't enough.

If you walked through the north end of St. James Park on Sunday between the hours of 1:30 and 2:15 p.m. and didn’t at least crack a smile, you’re a monster.

To be fair, it really was a ridiculously adorable scene.

Sunday’s Blessing of the Dogs, a presentation of the St. John Ambulance therapy dog program, was a reminder of what organizers called the program’s “indispensable value.” But beyond that, as co-presenter Yogi Akal put it, it was a way of giving back to humanity’s most dutiful companions—even if “giving back” meant nothing more than a day of pats and treats.

Commonly seen in a therapeutic role in settings such as prisons, hospices, and schools, therapy dogs, described by Akal as “man’s most primal connections to nature,” have what Akal says is a unique healing power. The three-year program veteran recalls grieving individuals, catatonic over the loss of loved ones, moved to emotional breakthroughs—all thanks to a friendly, furry face. At other times, the joy of a visiting dog was the counterbalance to other, more painful sorts of therapy.

If nothing else, the Blessing of the Dogs is a “shout-out to the dogs,” Akal said. After a moment’s remembrance for dogs long past, officials at St. James Park, treats in hand, blessed the four-legged attendees, who presented themselves in cartoon-worthy pairings. A fairly diverse turnout of breeds—although chihuahas seemed oddly well-represented—reflected the event’s broad community appeal.

Photos by Todd Aalgaard