There are many different areas in which animal-assisted therapy dogs (and other species) are beneficial. Some visit health facilities and their sole job is to make people feel better. Some are engaged with physical or occupational therapy and are used as a tool for mobility and other aspects of a variety of tasks. Some assist children with their reading and literacy.
And some very special dogs and handlers are part of Response to Intervention programs.
These programs are organic in nature. Both the dog and handler must be the steadiest in temperament and behaviors. No two clients are the same. No two visits are the same. No two outcomes are the same.
But this is perhaps where the greatest breakthroughs are experienced. What is required of the therapy team is great empathy and patience. They are truly part of the care team and have to work in sync with the other professionals.
One special little dog recently spent an hour with several young adults who are particularly challenged. Each individual had a host of issues and limitations, but also very special talents and personalities. Limited mobility meant the dog had to stay extremely calm and quiet and not move, waiting for just that one moment when a hand might brush against his fur.
The dog had to know when to lean in and when to stay back as to not scare the client.
The dog had to know when to look at the client as if to say “Come on, you know you can do this.”
The dog had to know when to show appreciation for the smallest of gestures, perhaps one finger touching … the dog knew to snuggle closer and give a soft lick to the hand.
The handler had to gently guide the dog into a variety of positions and encourage the dog to stay still and wait, wait, wait.
The handler had to interact with the clients, none of whom were verbal.
The handler had to show the dog they were a team and this was fun.
Two breakthroughs occurred during this one visit. A young man reached out on his own to touch the little dog. And another young man smiled when he felt the dog against his skin.
When you realize that these teams are all volunteers and have gone through intense training and testing, you understand what these tiny moments mean to them.
Only the crème de la crème of therapy teams are chosen for these assignments.
Several such teams work in the Las Vegas area and make a difference every day.
And just one touch, just one smile means job well done.
If you are interested in learning more about animal-assisted therapy and Delta Society pet Partners, visit www.lovedogadventures.com
You may find these articles of interest as well:
5 Steps to Becoming a Delta Society Pet Partner therapy team in Las Vegas
What do animal assisted therapy dogs really do?
The human is as important as the pet in a successful animal-assisted therapy team
What makes a team suitable for therapy work?
One dog, one child: integrating animal assisted therapy into an overall care plan