I was asked to bring a therapy dog to meet a young boy who was deathly afraid of dogs. The young child is on the autism spectrum and minimally social or verbal. His fear had escalated when neighbors moved in with three dogs. Now the child wouldn’t even go into his yard. His fear went from anxiety to screaming and panic attacks whenever he saw a dog or thought about a dog. Trips to the park or anywhere they may encounter a dog was becoming impossible.I was approached by one of the occupational therapists to see if his response to a non-threatening dog could move him forward and address his fears. She researched therapy programs and reached out to Pet Partners and in turn found me and the Love Dogs.
I knew just the dog for the task – Mr. Kirby!
Our goal for the first session for this monitored and guided animal-assisted therapy session was simply to have the boy tolerate a dog in the room. Kirby was in his stroller and facing away from the young boy.I presented the Coco doll to the boy so he could understand how soft and cuddly the real dog would be. He right away took to the Coco doll and loved holding her.
Within a few minutes we had Kirby out of his stroller and the young boy looking towards him, acknowledging a dog in the room.I showed his therapist and the child’s mother how to safely greet a dog and how to present your hand palm down for the dog to sniff and the child watched closely.
Then we had Kirby lay down on his blanket near the boy as he played games with his therapist. Several therapists were involved as well as the child’s mother. Everyone wanted to be in the room observing what would soon become a critical connection.
The young boy looked at pictures of Kirby and listened to his story. He watched him do his behaviors and at one point, reached out for his leash. He really enjoyed holding the little dog’s leash.
He said Kirby’s name and repeated some conversation about and to the little dog.
He was still reluctant to get too close to the dog but he allowed Kirby to lay closer and closer to him.
And then the moment occurred. Without fanfare or any anticipation, the boy reached out and touched Kirby. We were taking many photos to document this first encounter and almost missed this magical moment because it came so unexpectedly.
Just one little boy reaching out one little hand to pet one little dog.
Then the child came outside to walk Kirby to our car and I put on a second leash and the child actually held on and walked Kirby to a spot so he could potty.
After seventeen years of working with therapy dogs, this was one of the most rewarding sessions I have ever participated in because so much progress was made in such a short period of time.
We will return for many more sessions and the goal is to work our way up to other therapy dogs that are larger breeds and even have a dog bark in his presence.
But trust was cemented today and that is the first step when working with Response to Interventions programs.
I wish I could show you this child’s face as he was smiling and glowing with pride.
Way to go Kirby!