Nuzzling Up to Healing & Hope

A Butler Center for Research report confirms the positive effects of animal-assisted therapy

Turns out Peanuts creator Charles Schulz was onto something when he declared, "Happiness is a warm puppy."

A Research Update issued this summer by the Hazelden Betty Ford Foundation's Butler Center for Research puts some science behind the popular sentiment. In "Animal-Assisted Therapy for Substance Use Disorders," research scientist Bethany Ranes, PhD, documents scientific findings on the positive effects of therapy animals on the treatment experience and outcomes.

According to research, a patient's interaction with a therapy animal while undergoing treatment for substance use disorder can transform the therapeutic environment in several positive ways, leading to the following:

  • Improved rapport with counselors
  • Reduced anxiety and stress
  • Better prospects for successful ongoing recovery following treatment

Animal-assisted therapy is not considered an independent treatment modality but is, instead, a therapeutic technique used alongside evidence-based practices in an effort to maximize the benefits of treatment.

Sense of calm

As the Research Update points out, the soft embrace of a dog offers comfort and support like no other.

Staff members are often cautious about using touch as a means of providing support or reassurance as it may be perceived as inappropriate; however, patients experiencing anxiety or distress may benefit a great deal from the nurturing feeling gained from the gentle contact of a dog.

Animal-assisted programming dogs have become valuable members of Hazelden Betty Ford Foundation's care teams at campuses in Minnesota, California and Oregon. Other locations are looking into the possibility of bringing canine helpers on board as well.

For Jeannine Leonard, a spiritual care professional at Hazelden's center for adolescents and young adults in Plymouth, Minnesota, the latest research about animal-assisted programming only confirms her experience. Leonard is the owner and handler of Willow, a sweet-natured Australian Labradoodle that attends group sessions with patients.

"Willow offers love and acceptance to our patients who often feel utterly unworthy of those things," Leonard explains. "She doesn't judge them for anything they've done in their past. It can be a first step for patients in learning to accept love and support."

Countless times, Leonard has watched Willow offer comfort in ways humans can't.

"Willow instinctively knows how to reassure a patient who's grappling with difficult emotions. She knows just when to rest her head in a lap or curl up at a patient's feet. She helps patients speak about their struggles and feel hope."

Learn more about the science behind animal-assisted therapy or other research findings on addiction-related topics at the Butler Center for Research. Research Update fact sheets are available to download at no cost.

The Power of Your Giving

Thanks to donor support, we were able to welcome Nala to our canine crew in March 2016. Nala puts healing and hope within reach for grateful patients at Hazelden in Newberg, Oregon. Donor funds covered $21,000 of initial costs associated with Nala's purchase, training, veterinary care and food. But your help is still needed to support Nala's ongoing training and care.

Please consider joining other generous donors by making a gift to fund Nala's healing work. Your donation will help Nala provide love and comfort to patients for years to come. You can donate quickly and safely online at

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