So often new therapy animal teams question “who is my client?” Is it just the person in the hospital bed or rehab gym? Is it the children reading to my dog? Is it the family member visiting their loved one? Is it the staff?
It is all of the above, and more.
So often our presence impacts on people we are not even aware of, or see.
One morning, the parent of a child who attends the school the Love Dogs adopted, stopped me outside the school. Her child is not in our class but “knows about the Love Dogs.” She said she had to thank me for teaching her child what a good dog behaves like. Her child came home and said “we have dogs in school and they don’t bark like our dog. Maybe we should train her.” They went on to teach their dog to be calm and this one child impacted a whole family by understanding how dogs can learn to behave. And they now have one very happy dog behaving well.
I was in the rehab gym at a facility where Benny works with stroke survivors. The woman who was our “client” was working with Benny every week and I noticed another woman sitting in a chair watching us. She did not speak and appeared to be in her own little world. I introduced myself and Benny and realized she had Alzheimer’s. This was our client’s mother and she came along to therapy because she could not be left home alone. We now understood that we actually had two clients every week and spent time with mom. The daughter thanked us for being so kind to her mother and acknowledging her because now when they have to leave the house to go to therapy, mother is happy and excited and it makes the car ride and day so much more positive.
And so often it is the staff that need a little therapy as well! Caregivers working with multiply challenged children in a group home that rarely have outsiders come to the home appreciate the human end of the leash as much as the animal. Hospital staff working in a locked psychiatric unit where no other volunteers go, always have to greet the dogs first.
And in the twenty plus years I am volunteering with my dogs, one instance stands out like no other.
Two years ago we began working with Julian, the little boy I write about so often. He is on the autism spectrum and every week we would work with his therapists on a broad range of issues and behaviors. The first year his little brother Mateo came to most sessions as he was not in school yet. He was just a little guy but so smart and engaging. And you could see how much he loved his big brother.
The family is moving to another state now and as we wind up our sessions with Julian and his Love Dogs, his mom shared something so special with me. Mateo was given an assignment in school to write about someone or something that impacted on his family and himself.
What did he choose to write about? The Love Dogs and how they helped his brother and how important they are in his own life. This is what he wrote:
Title: Ms. Sue and the Love Dogs
There was a great person named Sue Grundfest. And she helped us because my brother was afraid of dogs. Sue’s dogs are Benny and Kirby. But Kirby passed away.; But then she found a dog that looked just like Kirby! Ms. Sue named him Petey. And Benny and Petey were brothers. Just like me and my brother. I like Ms. Sue because she is smart, cool., awesome and kind.
So never forget that are role is to reach out to everyone we meet and make a difference at both ends of the leash.