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The therapy dogs at Walter Reed are not magic. (OK, maybe a little bit.)

When you're going through something really hard, sometimes what you need is a warm, fuzzy, adorable distraction.

The therapy dogs at Walter Reed are not magic. (OK, maybe a little bit.)
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The magic science is compelling. Therapy dogs really do seem to help sick and injured people recover.

Therapy dogs like those at Walter Reed National Military Medical Center in the above video by Military Health aren't random dogs from a local shelter. These are highly trained, certified dogs with handlers. Therapy and emotional support dogs have been shown to help veterans break out of their emotional shells, leading to more productive therapy sessions and better relationships with loved ones.

More research is needed into how exactly therapy dogs help mitigate the problems that wounded veterans experience, but we've known for a very long time that having pets — especially dogs — grants some pretty serious health benefits.


Why do dogs make us feel good?

One big reason: They stimulate our brains to create oxytocin.

Quick neurochemistry lesson:

Oxytocin is a hormone that the brain excretes during certain social interactions. It does a few neat magic tricks on the mind and the body. Scientists have found that oxytocin:

  • helps us bond with our friends, romantic partners, and family (especially children),
  • prompts our bodies to heal themselves,
  • helps us trust each other, and
  • reduces anxiety, fear, and stress.

How awesome is all that?

This awesome:

Do you think a dog can have an impact on happiness?

Go pet your dog and then tell me. If you don't have a dog, pet someone else's dog. (But always ask first.)

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If the past year has taught us nothing else, it's that sending love out into the world through selfless acts of kindness can have a positive ripple effect on people and communities. People all over the United States seemed to have gotten the message — 71% of those surveyed by the World Giving Index helped a stranger in need in 2020. A nonprofit survey found 90% helped others by running errands, calling, texting and sending care packages. Many people needed a boost last year in one way or another and obliging good neighbors heeded the call over and over again — and continue to make a positive impact through their actions in this new year.

Upworthy and P&G Good Everyday wanted to help keep kindness going strong, so they partnered up to create the Lead with Love Fund. The fund awards do-gooders in communities around the country with grants to help them continue on with their unique missions. Hundreds of nominations came pouring in and five winners were selected based on three criteria: the impact of action, uniqueness, and "Upworthy-ness" of their story.

Here's a look at the five winners:

Edith Ornelas, co-creator of Mariposas Collective in Memphis, Tenn.

Edith Ornelas has a deep-rooted connection to the asylum-seeking immigrant families she brings food and supplies to families in Memphis, Tenn. She was born in Jalisco, Mexico, and immigrated to the United States when she was 7 years old with her parents and sister. Edith grew up in Chicago, then moved to Memphis in 2016, where she quickly realized how few community programs existed for immigrants. Two years later, she helped create Mariposas Collective, which initially aimed to help families who had just been released from detention centers and were seeking asylum. The collective started out small but has since grown to approximately 400 volunteers.