Taiwan Fun Magazine, December 2004

Love so deep - Taiwan Dr. Dog

Interview: Chen Shio-Yi, Director By Bonnie Huang Translated by Teresa Cheng

The services include bonding time between the dogs and their patients


There is a group of dedicated people trying to bring this surreal claim into reality.

"Dogs can just wander about in hospitals?" That's probably what people think while skeptically glancing at me. You've probably been through this trying to sneak your precious doggie with you on a hospital visit. However, I bet none of you have seen anyone walk a dog in a hospital without any shame or embarrassment. Not only do the dogs walk about as they like, they treat patients just as doctors do. You probably think I'm crazy or sick.

Yes, in the past, what I just said might have seemed ridiculous or utterly unbelievable. Now, however, in a small corner of Taiwan, there is a group of dedicated people trying to bring this surreal claim into reality. Their name is Taiwan Dr. Dog and they have an organization called Formosa Animal-Assisted Activity & Therapy Association.

Upon meeting the group's director, Ms. Chen Shio-Yi, I was quite startled. You don't usually find the head of an organization to have such a lovely figure, and to be only a few years older than the lady whom I call¡§aunt¡¨next-door. From the interview, her compassion for stray dogs and life could be sensed through her sharp and blunt attitude. Because of her passion, she has been able to come this far down an arduous path not traveled by many and still keep going without complaint.

This so-called ¡§Dr. Dog¡¨ program is made up of owners and their dogs, creating teams of do-gooders. The teams begin on Saturdays at 6 a.m. and set off to locations according to personal convenience. Each round of service lasts for an hour. The services include bonding time between the dogs and their patients, allowing the patients the opportunity to love and care. Sometimes, under special conditions, patients are allowed to play catch-and-retrieve with the dogs. This is a type of chiropractic therapy. Here, when the dogs are the doctors, the owners become the assistants. The owners must watch out for both the dog and the patient and guide the two in their interaction. This proves to be a vital position for the owner to play.

Not all dogs are eligible to become "doctors". A qualified dog must be healthy, kind and have a liking for human interaction. If you think your dog fits the qualifications, you can apply for Dr. Dog's training sessions, not taking into account their age and breed. Director Chen says, ¡§Training sessions last for 20 weeks. The sessions are split into three levels ¡V beginner, intermediate and advanced. The owners must pass the exam along with their dogs in order to become a doctor. To promote our training program, if a dog doctor serves a minimum of 40 hours, we will refund your training program fees and give you the following year's health inspection fees.¡¨

Naturally, there are many who are skeptical as to whether or not these doggie therapists work. Because of this, Dr. Dog has partnered up with the National Taipei College of Nursing for research. Results of this research indicate that interaction between dogs and humans (of all ages) does prove to have positive effects. Director Chen notes that ¡§some stray dogs are where they are because of the lack of bonding with their owners, thus resulting in ignorance and neglect.¡¨ For example, when a dog licks its nose, it is telling you that he/she is hot. If the owner overlooks the simple gesture, the dog will look elsewhere to find comfort. They may choose to chew through household items or break furniture. As a result of this, the owner will lose patience with his/her dog and the rest is history. Joining the training sessions is not only a chance to genuinely help those less fortunate, but also a chance for the owner and the dog to understand each other.

If you are wishing to join this team to bring love and joy to others, Dr. Dog holds training sessions in Taipei, Taichung and Kaohsiung. For those who are

interested, visit http://twdogdr.groups.com.tw.