Therapy Dog

Therapy Experiences

One of my biggest joys in 15+ years of therapy work has been the increasing understanding on the part of professionals about how the animals can fit into therapy. To give an example, here's a partial list of the types of facilities where I visit with Kitty and Pickles:

  • High School: working with behavioral/learning disorder kids: we train them to train the dog(s) for therapy work, and at the completion of the manual and their training, they go through the Pet Partner Evaluation with an evaluator not involved in our training, and become registered Pet Partners with one of our dogs (or a dog provided by a teacher). We then visit the disabled kids at local catchment area elementary schools.
  • Maximum Security Prison (Special Offender Unit = Sex Offenders): we don't do this visit as often as the prison is a bit far for us, but we visit in a group there, and the 'humanizing' effect the dogs have on the prisoners is incredible.
  • Operation Opie: a bite prevention program for elementary school children. This program teaches safety around dogs, how to approach them properly, what to do if a strange dog approaches you, etc. It's wildly successful, and a whole lot of fun.
  • Reading Program: currently we're on hiatus from reading at Woodmoor Elementary School. This program is one of the most rewarding ever - kids with identified learning/reading disabilities are paired for the school year with one of the teams; and they read aloud to their canine teammate. Attendance is WAY up on reading day, as is confidence, and reading ability. It just plain works.
  • Assisted Living/Skilled Nursing/Retirement facilities: we visit numerous facilities offering various stages of care for seniors. These visits definitely range from "warm fuzzy" visits to memory work and physical therapy work.
    NOTE: "Therapy" work is either conducted WITH, or under the direction of a therapist/health care provider. We're often given a list of patients, with their specific visit goals stated, and we write-up the results of the visits, which goes into their charts.
  • Gero-Psychiatric (locked) hospital facility: we work in two groups here; one is the group that are recently admitted, have major medication imbalance, confusion, fall problems, etc.; essentially are in crisis. The other group here is more 'advanced' in their treatment, and closer to release. We work a lot on "living in the moment", and memory work in recalling their own pets and experiences.
  • Ronald McDonald House: what can you say??? Hard to beat working with the children and families receiving critical life saving care at Children's Hospital (Seattle). Stress is a major factor for these families, most often uprooted and living away from home at Ronald McDonald House. Siblings of sick children are a large part of the 'audience' here, as well as the children being treated, between hospital stays.
  • Two Salvation Army safe houses for victims of domestic violence. One is absolute crisis - have fled, leaving everything behind. Are in process of receiving new names/identities. These children are so uprooted, having a dog to pet and play with is just the ticket. The second facility is a longer term living situation; new identifications are established, and the children begin school located directly across from the complex where they live.

Laurie Hardman
PWDCA Therapy Committee Chair

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