Pioneering dog therapy program Dr Dog is 30 years old!

22 November 2021

It started out as a simple idea by Animals Asia founder and CEO Jill Robinson 30 years ago to bring people and animals together. Since then, Dr Dog has become an incredibly successful and well-loved program that has touched the lives and hearts of thousands of people.

Doctor Who?

Dr Dog recruits volunteers and their human companions to visit hospitals, care homes, support centres, orphanages, schools and universities to help people who might need a bit of reassurance, companionship, or a break from their problems.

Anyone who has had the fortune of sharing their life with a canine companion knows all too well of the therapeutic benefits of having a doting, furry friend. And research backs it up; stroking an animal can lower blood pressure, reduce cholesterol and ease feelings of anxiety and depression. 

In the 30 years since Dr Dog began, it has not only put a smile on over 500,000 people’s faces, it has done wonders for the perception of, and attitudes towards, dogs in Asia. Certainly, Jill herself is amazed at how far the program has come and how many lives it's touched: We never knew quite how popular it would be considering that when the idea was sparked there was so much caution surrounding dogs and disease across Asia. However, it took one dog in the garden of a hospital for just one hour, to convince the doctors and nursing staff how beautifully dogs connect with people in need, and we haven’t looked back since.”

“Who needs words when your eyes and tail can speak for you?” Pam Brown

By introducing dogs to people who have never been near a dog before or have only ever considered them as food or something to be feared, Dr Dog is changing minds by showing first-hand that dogs are sentient beings with their own feelings, personalities and needs. 

Karina O’Carroll, Animal Welfare Education Manager, Hong Kong, said, “Our Dr Dog program has benefited so many people and in so many ways. Over the last 30 years our canine therapists have helped people in need improve their social and communication skills and reduce feelings of isolation, anxiety and depression.”

She explained, “The love of a dog traverses all barriers and boundaries and in most cases, when the dogs meet people in a safe, structured and gentle way, all fears, apprehension, stress and worries dissipate instantly.”

“Dogs invite us to be exuberant and playful without needing a reason” Mari Gayatri Stein

Around the world fear of dogs exists but in parts of Asia these fears can be especially prevalent, especially amongst children who have little or no exposure to dogs as companions.

By showing people who are nervous of or distrusting of dogs for whatever reason that they can be gentle, fun and kind, they start to relax and want to touch and play with them. 

The parent of a child who was scared of dogs before attending a Dr Dog event said, “Dr Dog made my child realise that dogs can be good friends with humans and taught us how to communicate with them. Dr Dog also inspired my child to express the desire to interact with animals more often. It’s such a lovely program!”

Karina agrees: “30 years ago, perceptions towards dogs in Asia were less than desirable, and are still a work in progress, but through programs like Dr Dog, positive change is occurring. The magic of receiving unconditional love from another species speaks for itself in the smiles, feedback and repeated requests for visits Dr Dog gets.”

“A dog appreciates the person who knows all the right places to scratch” from the novel “Charlotte Gray”

To mark 30 years of Dr Dog, we celebrated in true canine fashion by holding a fun-packed flash mob in Shenzhen and a big party in Chengdu! 

Our fantastic volunteers, the Dr Dog team and of course the Doctors themselves, came along to party and meet the public to spread the message that dogs are just like us, and they can be our greatest ally, companion and love. 

Jill Robinson concludes, “30 years ago we couldn’t have dreamed that Dr Dog would affect such positive and long-lasting change. We’ve welcomed and even trained  groups in other countries such as the Philippines, India, Malaysia and Japan to run their own similar programs to encourage empathy towards dogs and by extension all animals.”

“Through these transformative, kind and compassionate programs, Animals Asia celebrates a wider community love towards dogs, and will continue to change hearts, minds and attitudes, encouraging a kinder world for all species.”

Read more:

International Assistance Dog Week: How I’ve seen therapy dogs change lives for the better

Cat and Dog welfare film and posters shown in Chengdu Metro