Come every third Friday of the month, the pitter-patter of doggy footsteps fills the Sunshine Welfare Action Mission (SWAMI) Home. About 30 elderly residents sit in a large, open entertainment area, eager to interact with canines from Therapy Dogs Singapore (TDS). Their one-hour therapy session is a welcome break from routine life at the nursing home. The minute these furballs appear, the old folks break into wide smiles.

These pooches aren’t just your regular domestic pets, but trained therapy dogs that provide affection and comfort to people in hospitals, retirement and nursing homes, schools, hospices, disaster areas, and people with autism. While all these furkids operate as volunteers—and so do their owners, who are their chaperones for each therapy session—all furkids need to go through rigorous temperament tests, conducted in-house by TDS. Currently, TDS has about 120 therapy dogs.

Making the cut
Canines of any breed, size and age can become therapy dogs—as long as they have a pleasant temperament and are in good health. These furry social workers need to be friendly, even-tempered, consistent (since they’ll be in unfamiliar or unusual environments), gentle, confident, and comfortable with meeting new people. They must also enjoy being hugged, kissed and petted.

A guiding hand
While the doggies do most of the “therapy”, their paw-rents also play a big role—they guide the entire interaction process. “With them present, the dogs won’t be so intimidating to the residents,” says Toh Meng Wee, 40, a TDS volunteer and financial advisor. “Not all residents have interacted with dogs before. Once the residents overcome this new experience, it will bring them affection and comfort.”

For more adorable photos of therapy dogs in action, flip to Paw-sitive Passions (pg 54) of our Apr/May 2017 issue!