HONOLULU -- With uncertainly in the military family, due to constant moves and deployments, one stabilizing factor providing comfort in stressful times is our four-legged family members.

These loyal, furry companions not only help those serving our nation, but are ideal friends to anyone in need.

In fact, research is backing up what pet lovers already know: Canines provide therapeutic benefits for those suffering from life's invisible scars.

Susan Luehrs is the founder of Hawaii Fi-Do, a not-for-profit program where trained therapy dogs visit troops at Army and Marine wounded warrior battalions

"It's the unconditional love of the dog that makes this all possible," Luehrs said. "They don't care what color you are, if you can read, if you have a missing limb. They're just there for that touch and (the dogs) give that back."

In the April-June issue of the Army Medical Department Journal authors retired Col. Elspeth Ritchie and Col. Robinette Amaker write that the "acceptance of canines in Army medicine and in the civilian world has virtually exploded."

They cite several examples, such as canines, used to help children cope with autism, of shelter dogs trained as services dogs and of therapy dogs that help Soldiers suffering from post-traumatic stress disorder, or PTSD.

According to the American Humane Association, an animal-assisted therapy dog can improve a patient's social, emotional or cognitive functioning. Pet therapy is used in hospitals, nursing homes, prisons, mental intuitions and wounded warrior clinics, schools and veterans centers.

Researchers have documented the positive benefits of animal-assisted therapy. In a 2005 study, the American Heart Association found that a 12-minute visit with a therapy dog reduced blood pressure and levels of stress hormones, and eased anxiety among hospitalized heart failure patients.

Other studies have been conducted with Alzheimer's patients, school children in reading programs and at the Department of Defense's National Intrepid Center of Excellence, where at least 100 service members have participated in the canine therapy program.

Many organizations provide a qualifying process for pet owners to begin therapy work. One example is Tripler Army Medical Center's Human Animal Bond Program.

A collaborative effort with the American Red Cross and Army Veterinary Services, dogs are screened by going through a series of temperament and health tests to verify that they'll make good candidates for visiting hospital patients.

The growing field of pet therapy shows that professionals are now seeking alternative therapies to help patients deal with stressful circumstances. As this treatment gains widespread acceptance within different professions, more pet owners can enjoy pet therapy as a way to bond with their pets and the people they're helping.

TAMC Human Animal Bond Program
Learn more about Tripler Army Medical Centers' Human Animal Bond Program by calling 808-433-6631.