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Puppy Love: Therapy dogs bring peace of mind to patients

Atila, a trained therapeutic greyhound used to treat patients with mental health issues and learning difficulties, falls asleep as it gets caressed by three patients at Benito Menni health facility in Elizondo, northern Spain, February 13, 2017. REUTERS/Susana Vera

How these therapy pups are helping psychiatric patients have a fresh start in life.

Puppy Love: Therapy dogs bring peace of mind to patients

Tucked away in Spain’s Pyrenees mountains, patients at psychiatric facility Benito Menni stretch out across floor mats and stroke greyhound puppies Atila and Argi.

Puppy love is part of the treatment for conditions such as schizophrenia.

Atila and Argi, trained therapeutic greyhounds used to treat patients with mental health issues and learning difficulties, run through the grounds at Benito Menni health facility in Elizondo, northern Spain. REUTERS/Susana Vera

Atila and Argi, trained therapeutic greyhounds used to treat patients with mental health issues and learning difficulties, run through the grounds at Benito Menni health facility in Elizondo, northern Spain. REUTERS/Susana Vera

The facility, based in a town near the border with France, uses the dogs to help patients with intellectual disabilities and mental health conditions develop social skills and a sense of autonomy.

Andres Garcia, 29, embraces Argi, a trained therapeutic greyhound used to treat patients with mental health issues and learning difficulties, as he relaxes at Benito Menni health facility in Elizondo, northern Spain. REUTERS/Susana Vera

Andres Garcia, 29, embraces Argi, a trained therapeutic greyhound used to treat patients with mental health issues and learning difficulties, as he relaxes at Benito Menni health facility in Elizondo, northern Spain. REUTERS/Susana Vera

Alongside misty views of green rolling mountains, petting sessions with the eight-month-old puppies have a calming effect serving as an emotional outlet for patients who struggle to connect with others.

Andres Garcia (L), 29, and Inaki Gorriz, 24, pet Atila, a trained therapeutic greyhound used to treat patients with mental health issues and learning difficulties, as their nurses and therapists look on at Benito Menni health facility in Elizondo, northern Spain. REUTERS/Susana Vera

Andres Garcia (L), 29, and Inaki Gorriz, 24, pet Atila, a trained therapeutic greyhound used to treat patients with mental health issues and learning difficulties, as their nurses and therapists look on at Benito Menni health facility in Elizondo, northern Spain. REUTERS/Susana Vera

Playing with those who are more active and sitting still with those who find moving a daily challenge, the dogs tailor their behaviour according to the needs of their patient.

Argi and Atila, trained therapeutic greyhounds used to treat patients with mental health issues and learning difficulties, enter their home at Benito Menni health facility in Elizondo, northern Spain. REUTERS/Susana Vera

Argi and Atila, trained therapeutic greyhounds used to treat patients with mental health issues and learning difficulties, enter their home at Benito Menni health facility in Elizondo, northern Spain. REUTERS/Susana Vera

Unlike other centres, Atila and Argi live on the grounds and are cared for by patients.

“They are in charge of the dogs 24 hours a day,” said head nurse of Benito Menni Uxua Lazkanotegi. “The dogs are now part of the centre.”

Ramona Echeverria (L), 63, and Ion Albiz, 38, pet Atila, a trained therapeutic greyhound used to treat patients with mental health issues and learning difficulties, at Benito Menni health facility in Elizondo, northern Spain. REUTERS/Susana Vera

Ramona Echeverria (L), 63, and Ion Albiz, 38, pet Atila, a trained therapeutic greyhound used to treat patients with mental health issues and learning difficulties, at Benito Menni health facility in Elizondo, northern Spain. REUTERS/Susana Vera

In an effort to promote good habits like self-control and personal hygiene, patients groom and feed their furry companions taking them for daily walks to the nearby village where the dogs are icebreakers facilitating conversation with the locals.

David Villanueva, 44, reacts as he caresses Atila, a trained therapeutic greyhound used to treat patients with mental health issues and learning difficulties, in its bed at Benito Menni health facility in Elizondo, northern Spain. REUTERS/Susana Vera

David Villanueva, 44, reacts as he caresses Atila, a trained therapeutic greyhound used to treat patients with mental health issues and learning difficulties, in its bed at Benito Menni health facility in Elizondo, northern Spain. REUTERS/Susana Vera

Centre residents who struggle to express themselves because of a range of cognitive and behavioural disabilities referred to their feelings for the dogs using words like “calmness”, “companionship” and “affection”.

Miren Martinez, 49, pets Atila, a trained therapeutic greyhound used to treat patients with mental health issues and learning difficulties, at Benito Menni health facility in Elizondo, northern Spain. REUTERS/Susana Vera

Miren Martinez, 49, pets Atila, a trained therapeutic greyhound used to treat patients with mental health issues and learning difficulties, at Benito Menni health facility in Elizondo, northern Spain. REUTERS/Susana Vera

The dogs also work with those unable to feed or walk the animals, sitting with severe dementia patients in an effort to combat isolation and depression by stimulating their senses of touch.

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