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Nurse Elaine Smith Established the First Therapy Dog Program

Elaine Smith, founder of Therapy Dogs International
Elaine Smith, founder of Therapy Dogs International, whose slogan is “A Dog will Love you Forever.”
Illustration of Elaine Smith by Kirby Salvador.

Elaine Smith (1930–2012)

Never underestimate the healing power of a canine cuddle. Elaine Smith was a registered nurse working in an English hospital when she noticed that visits from a chaplain’s Golden Retriever were lifting patients’ spirits. That memory stayed with Smith when she returned to New Jersey. In 1976, she founded Therapy Dogs International—the world’s first organization for testing and certifying dogs and their volunteer handlers to visit hospitals, nursing homes and disaster relief shelters.

Smith died in 2012, but her organization continues on. Today, TDI certifies over 24,000 dog-handler teams in all 50 states. The group celebrated a historic first when a German Shepherd named Forest—a TDI-registered pup—became the State Department’s first therapy dog in Nairobi, Kenya.

This feature originally appeared in the Anxiety issue. For more inspiring women, check out Grandma Moses’s story and our Women in History section.