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Your Best Life: How dogs can make life better

Evening anchor Leslie Draffin breaks down how dogs are more than just man's best friend.

TEMPLE, Texas — Most of us know dogs are man's best friend, but it turns out they're also good for our health.

At McLane Children's Hospital in Temple, a dog named Lorenzo is busy at work.

"He loves to get up on the bed. He loves to play fetch and give things to patients,” said Leah Woodward, who is a certified child life specialist alongside Ashley Blackmon.

“He’s the calmest dog ever. Some people call him stoic. His face is calm and collected, he loves to snuggle with patients. He loves being close to them," Blackmon said about the 3-year-old Golden Retriever, Labrador mix.

Together, the team helps patients cope with hospitalization through socializing and playing.

“Lorenzo can help a patient calm or relieve anxiety or stress. So a patient who's getting an IV start or stitches or a hard diagnosis that we need to have a hard conversation about, we'll get Lorenzo up on the bed and he's an additional support while we do the things we need to do," Woodward said.

Woodward and Blackmon said that since getting Lorenzo a year ago, they've been constantly surprised at his ability to guide patients through tough times.

"His ability to help patients cope surprises us almost on a daily basis,” Woodward said. “We hear things like, ‘Lorenzo makes me feel at home,’ or ‘Lorenzo takes the pain away.’ I heard recently ‘Lorenzo changed my life.’”

Ryleigh Picott, 9, said she met Lorenzo during a scary procedure she had at the hospital and she knows how much he makes kids like her feel better.

"He always brings the kids’ spirits up whenever they're sad, because you're focused on him and not what they're doing," Picott said.  

She said she also believes he loves what he does “because he’s always wagging his tail and he's always smiling."

Mike Pierce works with dogs every day.

“It seems to put a smile on my face when I'm playing with dogs," he said.

 The Army veteran owns Loose Leash Happy Paws where he trains dogs and their owners.

“It’s (Loose Leash Happy Paws) given me a purpose. Dog handling and dog training has also given me a purpose,” Pierce said "As soon as I call his name he's going to look at me with his almond eyes and his ears kind of goofy and wag his tail, and it’s just going to make me forget everything. It’s just that unconditional love."

Mental Health professional Kyler Shumway said he also knows a lot about the unconditional love of a dog.

"When I was 5 years old, the only thing I wanted in the entire world was a dog. I still remember the day when we got to pick him out and I met my new best friend,” Shumway said. “His name was Oliver, a yellow lab, and he was an amazing dog.

Shumway said dogs can also be stress relievers and teach life lessons

 “Learning how to be accountable for something is a great lesson for kiddos to learn,” he said.

Madison Richner 15, and Matilda Richner, 14, are learning those lessons right now. The pair have two family dogs, but have also fostered more than 50 dogs in the last two years through the local animal rescue group, APAC. They said it teaches them responsibility, but also how to care for another creature.

"So feeding them, cleaning up after them, filling up their water bowl, cleaning up their poop, taking them on walks, taking them on vets visits, making sure they're spayed and neutered," the girls said about caring for the dogs.

They said it’s hard work but “totally worth it” because “they love us unconditionally.” The girls said, “they're (the dogs) always happy."

To find out more about Buddy, who’s up for adoption from APAC, follow this link.

Science backs up all the things dogs do for us. A Harvard Medical School study shows dogs can lower blood pressure and help you manage stress, which Lorenzo does for patients at the hospital every day.

According to a Swedish study of more than 3.4 million people, dogs make you live longer. Researchers found that people who owned dogs were less likely to die from cardiovascular disease and speculated it might be because they were getting more exercise.

Even without medical proof, you can ask anyone with a dog if they might live better, and you’ll probably get a unanimous “yes.”

In our studio here at KCEN Channel 6, there are several proud dog owners. 

Meet Felix, S'mores, Thor and more Channel 6 pups in the montage below!

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