Many people ask what qualifications must a Therapy Dog possess before beginning visits. This photograph shows it all:
First, the dog must have a loving disposition, and
Second: there must be effective communication between dog and handler so that the two can function as a controlled whole. The bag strapped to my waist contains "doggie trail mix (little chunks of cheese and chopped baked turkey weenies) and is strictly for schooling purposes... no food inducements for good behaviour when we're on duty!
Upon entering the hospital that evening, Misty and I were delighted with the cheery presence of an unusual number of small children. It was a week night like any other when we visit. There was no special function under way in the hospital. The park outside seemed somehow to tingle with happy faces – but that was due to relieved Ontarians lingering about in one of the first warm evenings of the spring -- no organized event was unfolding.
Yet the revolving door at the hospital’s entrance spat Misty and I out into a corridor burbling with kids.
“Puppy! Puppy! Puppy, Daddy!” A toddler yanked on her father’s arm to get to The Misty Zone and Misty got right into the mutual joy with wagging tail and lots of licking. As we made our way to our usual hand cleansing station for the ritual down-the-furry-body-and-pads-of-all-paws sanitizing, many chubby little fingers reached out to run through Misty’s coat as we passed.
We proceeded to the elevator, with Misty receiving the usual comments of “Hello, Beautiful”, lots of smiles and “Can I pat your dog?” requests. Then we rode the elevator up to the Palliative Care Unit. The doors opened and the first person we saw was Myrna. Misty pulled me in her direction.
“They want to crucify me.” From the chair where Myrna was secured to stop her from sliding under its feeding tray to the floor, Myrna extended her arms out to hang midair on each side. “It’s because I’m so bad.” Misty did her best to nuzzle under Myrna’s arm. Dog nose moved from side to side across bony human arm and under the oxygen tubing that snaked down to the floor and into the room behind.
“Myrna, you’re not bad. You’re sick. You’re in the hospital because you’re sick.” Myrna peered up at me, oblivious to Misty’s licks and attentions.
As I’ve reported in earlier columns, it’s been established empirically that the incredible neuroreceptors and blood supply of the canine nose have given dogs the ability to detect some cancers with impressive reliability. As well, service dogs are on hand not only to provide early warnings of seizures but also to assist their owners should a convulsion follow. Dogs can also sense the onset of hypoglycemia and other conditions that threaten their humans. Yet it is their ability to detect and help their partners contend with depression, autism and other such neuropsychological challenges that hold great promise for future cross-species interaction.
 “Confusion”: firstname.lastname@example.org. Undated.
 “Seizure alert/response dogs”, Service Dog Central (2006-2013). This website reports that predictions of seizures are signaled by the dog 10 to 20 minutes prior to a seizure. In turn, this permits the person to take preventative precautions such as taking medication and calling for assistance. In addition, “Seizure Response Dogs” are trained to go further in aiding humans, by performing such tasks as rolling a person over to open the airway, clearing vomit from the throat area, operating a call button or K9 phone, blocking the person from a stairway or intersection, assisting the person to rise post-convulsion, helping with equilibrium issues, guiding the person to a predetermined location, and so on.
 See, for example, Dogs for Diabetics (D4D), an organization founded by forensic scientist and type 1 diabetic patient, Mark Ruefenacht. Medical Assistance Diabetic Alert Dogs are scent- trained to assist insulin-dependent diabetics in managing their insulin therapy. Its dogs are scent-trained to recognize the chemical changes in blood sugar of their owners to provide an alert prior to the onset of low blood sugar.
 Autism Canada reports that Autism Assistance Dogs can be used in several ways as part of a child’s support and therapy, offering safety and assisting children and their families. See also AutismSupportDogs.org and autismdogservices.ca.