top of page

The Foundation's History With Service & Therapy Animals

April 18. Anyone with a pet realizes the attention and love we get from them feels great! We nurture our pets and without us even realizing it, we are getting healthy benefits too. The science proves it!

In an article titled: Yes, Your Pet Regulates Your Nervous System, “research confirms it: all that snuggling is excellent for your mental health”. According to Maggie O’Haire, PhD, Associate Dean for Research at the University of Arizona College of Veterinary Medicine: “Evolutionarily, we grew up around animals in nature. Our body is primed to pay attention to them.” Why? Because “animals provide a positive external focus of attention,” according to Dr. O’Haire. Just looking at a dog or cat (or other animal), in fact, “creates changes in our neurobiology of stress and the way our body reacts to the environment around it."

Researchers currently don’t fully understand the physiological effects that animals have on humans, but they know it’s most likely related to two hormones: cortisol and oxytocin.

Your stress level is controlled by cortisol and it rises when we need a jolt of energy, like first thing in the morning. But when we are chronically stressed, the hormone stops being able to function properly, and our stress levels grow. The second hormone, oxytocin, acts as a chemical messenger in the brain and has an important role in human behavior. The next paragraph describes a fascinating test done with college students to gauge how these hormones react with animal stimulation.

Patricia Pendry, PhD, Anthrozoologist and Professor in Washington State University’s Department of Human Development, has shown, through a study she did with college students, that interacting with a dog or cat soothed the students' “exam-week nerves”. She, and her co-author of the study, randomly divided students into four groups:

  • One group petted service dogs and cats at an event on campus

  • Second group watched others petting the animals

  • Third group looked at images of the same dogs and cats

  • Last group was “waitlisted:" they waited to interact with the pets and ultimately were turned away without any interactions

Though the study and published work is quite lengthy, it boils down to this: Through saliva samples taken from the morning until the evening, the student group that petted the animals experienced a “statistically significant cortisol decrease” after just 10 minutes! Students in the second and third groups also had decreased cortisol watching the interactions or just seeing pictures of the animals. And that’s because petting/watching/looking at pictures of the animals produced oxytocin, which suppressed cortisol production, ergo, stress was lowered. See the chart below which graphs the four groups and the decreased cortisol levels of the three groups (the fourth, recall, was turned away before seeing any dogs or cats). Much more work is needed, but researchers are very interested in this field, specifically for military veterans suffering from PTSD. Read on for more on that.

Veterans, PTSD and Service Dogs

As mentioned in the first post this month, there is a large portion of military veterans suffering with PTSD. Several treatments and interventions exist, and a growing body of research is pointing to the fact that animal-assisted interventions through trained PTSD service dogs is having much success.

Several studies, including one published in PLOS ONE Journal (an organization that works to advance science by making research accessible without barriers), have “demonstrated that U.S. military veterans with a PTSD service dog report significantly less symptom severity and better quality of life than those without a service dog, as well as significantly different stress profiles.” (Emphasis added by author.)

A trained PTSD service dog can help to alleviate anxiety, for instance, by applying different types of pressure, nudges to interrupt flashbacks and help waking from nightmares. Service dog training is tough, and service dog training for PTSD sufferers is even tougher. The chart here shows the types of things dogs are assessed for as they train to be a PTSD service dog.

And this chart, PTSD Service Dog Teams Logic Model, shows how one of many studies seeking research on dogs and military veterans approached its study.

Even Horses Can Be Service Animals!

In Wallingford, CT, a clinical social worker began a charitable organization to provide animal-assisted therapy to children, families, veterans and first responders. As a social worker, the CEO of the organization has seen that animals have helped with emotional and mental health struggles in a way that “sometimes humans can’t”. At the farm, kids and adults can interact with horses, ponies, bunnies, guinea pigs, and of course dogs and cats!

Here are a few of our partners in Service and Therapy Animal month (all of which we have donated to for several years):

  • National Disaster Search Dog Foundation

  • NEADS World Class Service Dogs (Trusty & Ember!)

  • Canine Companions for Independence

  • Canine Therapy Corps

  • Ready Set Ride Therapeutic Recreational Facility

  • Fox Valley Therapy Dog Club

  • Austin (TX) Dog Alliance

ONE FINAL THING: How do investors look at the animal industry? These stats might help:

  • The American Kennel Club (AKC) reported that for the first time ever, pet industry sales exceeded $100 billion in 2020 in the U.S. Globally, the pet market is worth $261 billion.

  • Morgan Stanley forecasts that pet industry spending will nearly triple to $275 billion by 2030.

  • A recent survey reported that almost two-thirds of 18-to-34-year-olds "plan to get a pet in the next five years, driving a 14% increase in pet ownership" (AKC).

  • PetKeen reports that over the last 5 years, raw dog food has seen a 147% increase in purchasing patterns.

  • The pet "accessories market" is projected to grow to $14.5 billion (PetKeen).

  • Vet care and product sales are growing; in 2021 pet owners spent $34.3 billion and that figure is expected to grow (PetPedia).

ONE MORE FINAL THING: The latest statistics from the National Philanthropic Trust show that giving increased in EVERY sector (as of 12/31/21, the latest data available), but there was double-digit growth in donations for public society benefit (23.5%) and environment/animals (11%).


April 1. Since 2013, the FT Cares Foundation has donated over $82,700 to various organizations dedicated to helping humans through service and working dogs and emotional support animals.

Americans LOVE their pets!

According to The Zebra, an independent insurance comparison site:

  • 74% of pet owners believe their mental health improved after getting a pet

  • 75% of dog owners in the U.S. take their dogs along for rides and adventures

  • 70% of cats and dogs are allowed to nap on furniture(!)

How many pets are there in the United States?

Some fun facts about pet owners:

  • 60% of U.S. pet owners are female

  • Millennials are the generation most likely to own pets, accounting for 32% of all pet owners, followed by:

    • Baby Boomers at 27%

    • Gen X at 24%

    • Gen Z at 14%

    • Builders at 3%

  • 85% of dog owners and 76% of cat owners consider their pets family (no surprise to all of us who have pets!)

Having pets is a joy for millions of us. But what if your life, and the activities you do, are impossible without a service animal?

That’s why the Foundation has always had April’s theme of Service & Therapy Animals. Some stats about therapy animals:

  • There are an estimated 500,000 service dogs in the U.S. currently, and nearly 200,000 registered emotional support animals.*

  • It takes roughly 18 months to train a service dog; 50-70% of dogs in training do not successfully become registered service dogs.

  • Training a psychiatric service dog takes longer: one to two years; the estimated cost to train a fully-certified service dog is $25,000.

  • The CDC reports that less than 1% of Americans living with disabilities use service dogs; 61 million Americans are living with disabilities, but are unable to work with service dogs due to a mix of availability, costs and barriers for service animals that still exist today. (Info from American Kennel Club, Assistance Dogs International, Pawsome Advice, PetPedia, and the National Center for Biotechnology Information)


* There has been much confusion over the difference between Service Dogs and Emotional Support Dogs/Animals. Since 2010, after then Attorney General Eric Holder signed final regulations revising the Department’s ADA regulations, Service Dogs (the only animal than can be a “Service” animal) became defined as: “Service animal means any dog individually trained to do work or perform tasks for the benefit of an individual with a disability, including but not limited to, guiding individuals who are blind or have low vision, alerting individuals who are deaf or hard of hearing to the presence of people or sounds, providing minimal protection or rescue work, pulling a wheelchair, fetching items, assisting an individual during a seizure, retrieving medicine or the telephone, providing physical support and assistance with balance and stability to individuals with mobility disabilities, and assisting individuals, including those with cognitive disabilities, with navigation. The term service animal includes individually trained animals that do work or perform tasks for the benefit of individuals with disabilities, including psychiatric, cognitive, and mental disabilities. The term service animal does not include wild animals (including nonhuman primates born in captivity), reptiles, rabbits, farm animals (including any breed of horse, miniature horse, pony, pig, or goat), ferrets, amphibians, and rodents. Animals whose sole function is to provide emotional support, comfort, therapy, companionship, therapeutic benefits, or to promote emotional well-being are not service animals.”

Emotional Support Dogs: These dogs are not considered service dogs. They are typically not registered or properly trained (as service dogs are). They provide comfort and support in the form of affection and companionship for an individual suffering from various mental and emotional conditions. Unlike service dogs, emotional support dogs are not required to perform any specific tasks for disabilities like service dogs are. They can assist with such conditions as anxiety, depression, bipolar disorder/mood disorder, panic attacks, fear/phobias and other psychological and emotional conditions.

There is one more type of dog that helps to bring comfort to those who are ill or under poor conditions, including those who have been affected by a natural disaster: Therapy Dogs. These dogs are typically privately-owned and tend to visit facilities (like hospitals, nursing homes, schools) on a regular basis. Several organizations bring their dogs to natural disasters since “many people are able to connect with dogs and feel the love they provide, and this has a therapeutic effect on them,” according to the ADA.

Above definitions from Assistance Dogs of America


There is data showing the effectiveness of Service Dogs with various illnesses or conditions:

  • Autism. The CDC reports that many people and kids with autism avoid social situations and get little exercise because they fear being in public (and reports that more than 5.4 million Americans have autism). Service dogs have a “very positive effect” on those with autism, especially children, because a service dog can help a child calm down and refocus while also preventing repetitive behavior that might hurt a child with autism. In studies conducted to assess the effect of animal-assisted intervention to improve the lives of those with Autism Spectrum Disorder, language and communication were evaluated: among these, 75% reported significant improvements. Unfortunately, due to the “sheer amount” of people and kids with sensory disabilities like autism, it can take between one and four years to find the match for a dog and child/person.

  • Deafness/Hard of Hearing Individuals. The Orange County Deaf Equal Access Foundation reports that there are 37 million deaf or hard of hearing individuals in the U.S. These service dogs are trained to alert individuals to sounds like alarms, the phone ringing, doorbells, oven timers, babies’ cries, etc. The AKC reports that most hearing dogs are small- to medium- mixed breed animals. Hearing dogs come in all kennel classes and varieties, however, and Labrador Retrievers, Golden Retrievers, Poodles and Cocker Spaniels have proven themselves as wonderful hearing dogs (dogs that are active and alert, naturally attentive to sound and friendly and people-oriented).

  • Mobility. According to the CDC, mobility is the most common disability, affecting 1 in 7 U.S. adults. People 65 and over have a 2-in-5 chance of being physically disabled. Service dogs are trained to help with everyday situations like opening an automatic door or retrieving objects. These dogs can help people regain balance and help to prevent falling. They can also carry items if a person is too weak to move or hold them. And believe it or not, these dogs can help remind owners to take prescribed medications. In other words, these service dogs help a person with a disability to lead a more independent life.

  • Veterans. Currently, approximately 18 million veterans live in the U.S. Researchers estimate that between 11-20% of veterans who served in Operation Iraqi Freedom or Operation Enduing Freedom struggle with PTSD. Additionally, an estimated 12% of Gulf War veterans experience PTSD and 30% of Vietnam veterans have experienced PTSD in their lifetime (U.S. Department of Veteran Affairs). It has been proven that service dogs help people with PTSD, traumatic brain injury or military sexual trauma. According to Hope for the Warriors, “Trained service dogs make essential partners for people who need extra assistance. They also play a ’best friend’ role. By nature, they understand moods and are very reactive to sadness, despair and fear.” K9s for Warriors uses a “scientifically-proven process” that pairs military veterans with a trained service dog with the mission to end veteran suicides. The majority of its dogs come from high-kill shelters, so the organization is saving dogs, and more importantly, veterans. It reports that scientific research (from Purdue University’s OHAIRE Lab) demonstrates that service dogs have the ability to “help mitigate their veteran’s symptoms of PTSD while simultaneously restoring their confidence and independence.”


Recent Posts
bottom of page