In 2013, after having gone through a particularly traumatic summer, I decided I wanted to ring in the fall season with a furry companion. I hadn’t the faintest idea what kind of dog I wanted, so for a few months I wandered from pet store to pet store, looking at different puppies. One late September day, I found myself in a pet store looking down at a litter of brown, white, and black puppies. While most of the puppies were jumping, yelping, and tumbling over each other, there was one white puppy who was sitting still, staring up at me with her big, black eyes. Despite being trampled on by her rambunctious siblings, she remained calm and seated, with her tail wagging. I hadn’t even gotten a chance to hold her yet, but it did not matter. I already knew, in that instance, that I was taking her home. I named her Macie.
Maybe it was because she was the runt of the litter. Maybe it was because she started licking my whole face when I first held her. Or maybe it was because I could relate to her, patiently waiting to be noticed in a pen full of other puppies who kept knocking her down. All I really know is that nearly 7 years later, this dog has changed my life. Throughout the years, Macie has stuck by my side, showing nothing but pure, concentrated love for me. As someone who has battled PTSD, depression, and anxiety for years, Macie helps to ground me, comfort me, and motivate me in ways I never would have imagined.
Using a Therapy Dog in My Practice
Thanks to Macie, when I opened my own private practice in Blackwood, NJ, I was determined to have a therapy dog for my patients. While Macie is the best furry friend I could ever ask for, she is attached only to me, and thus, would not have made a suitable therapy dog to bring to the office. So, in December of 2018, I brought home a Red Tricolor Australian Shepherd puppy, named Noel. Over the course of that year, Noel went through two rigorous training courses designed by the American Kennel Club in order to become a certified therapy dog. Since opening my private practice as a therapist, it has been nothing short of amazing to watch the bond that Noel has had with so many of my patients. The wonderful thing about having Noel as a therapy dog in my practice she is the perfect supplement to my treatment approach with patients, whether it’s someone who has been through trauma, has an eating disorder, or suffers from depression.
The Positive Effects of Animal-Assisted Therapy
There have been a myriad of studies on the effects of animal-assisted therapy, most of which have shown that having a trained pet in the office during counseling sessions can:
- Help establish and build rapport
- Decrease symptoms of anxiety, such as increased heartrate and difficulty breathing
- Relieve symptoms of depression
- Serve as a tactile grounding tool for patients with PTSD who are working through traumatic memories
- Provide temporary relief for patients in deep grief
To Learn More
To learn more about the benefits on animal-assisted therapy, please visit the following sites:
- Tips for Incorporating Animals Into Your Therapy Practice
- “Pawsitive” Pets: Working With Your Pet as Cotherapist
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