Animal-Assisted Therapy

Healing grounded in the bond between people and animals.

Animals can provide a sense of calm, comfort and safety. As a friendly, nonjudgmental therapy partner, they can divert attention away from a stressful situation, stabilize emotions and improve communication. When patients interact with therapy dogs, spirits can be lifted and blood pressure can be lowered. Motor control can be regained through petting, grooming and games of fetch. Speech can be relearned through calls and commands. 

Enhancing connection

When animals are partnered with a healthcare professional, they play an integral part in the therapy process.


“I never ever underestimate the power of what the dogs can bring to our therapy sessions.”

—Pam Forsythe, Retired Physical Therapist, Essentia Health

Supporting Animal-Assisted Therapy

The requirements for therapy dogs are very detailed because clinicians are very specific about their patients’ goals and expectations during recovery. And although the field of animal assisted therapy has grown and the benefits are clear, experts readily acknowledge the use of animals in medical settings suffers from a lack of knowledge and financial support. A gift to the Miller-Dwan Foundation designated to the Animal Assisted Therapy Fund will:

Recognize animals as our partners in care.

Support the ongoing use of animals in therapy.

Expand the therapeutic use of animals in a variety of departments.

Animal-Assisted Therapy, FAQs

Animal-assisted therapy is using an animal as part of goal-oriented therapy sessions for psychological and physiological benefits.


A therapy animal provides a safe topic of conversation to kick-start the connection between therapist and client. It has been found that dog-assisted therapy has a positive impact on behaviors and conditions like anxiety, anger, post-traumatic stress disorder and conduct disorders. Animal-assisted therapy can also reduce aggressive behavior and increase trust.

Therapeutic time with animals has been shown to reduce the stress hormone cortisol and pain levels after surgery. Animals can help improve cardiovascular health in heart patients. They can also increase physical movement and activity through walks and play. 


Service animals provide assistance such as guiding the blind or alerting for diabetes and seizures. A therapy animal assists a therapist in connecting with patients and going through the motions of therapy.


Your dog may be able to become a therapy dog that can provide comfort and attention to people in hospice, schools, and more, or an emotional support dog that offers therapeutic benefits through companionship. Becoming a therapy dog requires several steps including basic obedience, an evaluation, health assessment and background check. 

If you and your dog have completed all necessary steps or would like more information on volunteering as a pet therapy team with Miller-Dwan Foundation, call 218.786.5829.

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Together we will realize our shared vision of a community free from mental health crisis.