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KNOXVILLE, Tenn. — Dogs benefit human health by increasing a sense of well-being and by lowering stress among elderly people, University of Tennessee veterinarian Dr. John New said Friday.

New said UT’s Human Animal Bond In Tennessee (HABIT) program takes dogs to nursing homes and other institutions. UT helps Knoxville’s Humans and Animals Learning Together (HALT) program, in which troubled teens train and care for dogs, New said. The program helps youths develop self-esteem, be more attentive and more responsive to counseling, he said.

UT also has had programs in which dogs assist people in physical therapy.

“Many physical therapy activities are boring and people don’t like them,” New said. But patients are much more willing to do exercises that are enjoyable, such as throwing a ball for a dog to retrieve.

A two-year study published in a recent Journal of the American Medical Association found that service dogs improved the psychological, social and economic well-being of disabled people.

Last month, a New Hampshire woman was suffocating when her dog — trained to use a specially programmed phone — pawed a dial coded to automatically dial 911 to summon rescue workers.

A recent University of New York study shows people accompanied by a dog feel less tension.

“For those who are not afraid of dogs, and that is most people, they truly can be beneficial or even lifesaving companions,” New said.

Contact: Dr. John New (423-974-5721)