Animals Asia’s ‘Dr Dogs’ help psychiatric patients in China for very first time

07 March 2023

Patients at the Chengdu Emotional Disorder Center in China were visited earlier this month by two very important guests.

But Li Dabao (meaning ‘Big Treasure’) and Xuebing (‘Ice Cream’) are no ordinary guests. With their floppy ears, shiny coats and earnest smiles, these Dr Dogs had a very important job: to provide company, joy, and warmth to the center’s residents. 

The start of a beautiful relationship

Jill Robinson, Animals Asia’s Founder and CEO, pioneered Dr Dog over 30 years ago with her golden retriever Max. Jill instinctively understood the gentle, non-judgemental and comforting nature of dogs, and believed they could help people who were experiencing difficulties.

Jill remembers her and Max’s first visit to Hong Kong’s Duchess of Kent Children’s Hospital in 1991:

“The smiles on the faces of a young paraplegic boy and his amazed carers when he stroked and cuddled Max was absolutely incredible!”

A dog’s unconditional love

Jill explains,

“People who have shut down, have stopped trusting other people, or are just in need of some company take great comfort from our Dr Dogs. They experience unconditional love and affection, and come to see dogs as friends.”

Thanks to our incredible donors and supporters, our Dr Dog program has since brightened and improved the lives of tens of thousands of people across Asia, including children and adults with special needs, residents of care homes, and people who are suffering with illness.

But it has never been used to treat people with mental health disorders, until now.

The transformative powers of animal therapy

Ms Chen Jiajia, head of the Emotional Disorder Center, explained why she invited Dr Dog to work with her patients:

“Animal-assisted therapy, or AAT, is effective in treating issues related to depression, anxiety, attention deficit hyperactivity disorder (ADHD), dementia and autism.”

Chen witnessed the transformative powers of animal-assistance therapy first-hand at one of the early trials of Dr Dog with her patients. She recalls:

“We were working with a severely depressed boy who refused to talk to anyone. He’d written a suicide note. The dog seemed to understand the boys’ sadness, and placed his head in the boy’s arms.

The boy who never showed emotion looked surprised, and later wrote a story about himself and his pet dog. In the story, the dog slowly approached his heart which enabled him to respond to the doctors and to his treatment, to the point where he is now cured and has been discharged.”

With your incredible support, our canine volunteers not only provide warmth, comfort and companionship to the most vulnerable and often forgotten members of society, they are challenging and breaking down long-held beliefs and attitudes towards dogs and in turn, all animals.

Read more:
The history and successes of Dr Dog