Volunteering and therapy dogs make life easier, less stressful

Last week was a violent week in Chicago and America. The murder of a high-ranking police officer and the mass school shootings in Florida left many people feeling a sense of hopelessness.

But psychiatrists say there is something you can do to get rid of those dire feelings: volunteer.

Meet Larry the therapy dog and his owner Nancy. Nancy and Larry -- a Bernadoodle -- are part of the Rainbow Animal Assisted Therapy Dog's Volunteer Program at Lurie Children's Hospital.

Once a week, Nancy and Larry make their rounds visiting hospitalized children. The dog therapy program helps normalize the hospital environment and makes the experience less stressful and frightening for patients and their families.

And while the program is meant to benefit the patients, volunteers like Nancy are finding the rewards can be even greater for her -- and science is proving that's true.  

Recent studies have found giving back can help you feel a sense of control in your world. Not to mention studies have shown volunteering can lower your blood pressure, reduce the risk of depression and maybe even lower your risk of dementia.

So while Larry and Nancy are helping others, they are getting a bonus by helping themselves and Lurie’s is finding they're having an impact on its staff.

This is Nancy’s 6th year as a volunteer. Larry is her second dog.

"What could be better than volunteering with your dog,” she said.