Monday, April 4, 2011

Pet Therapy

About seven years ago, we adopted a dog from our local ASPCA intending to provide C with animal therapy on demand. We soon learned that our dog, whom we named Dude, sweet and affectionate though he proved to be, would not cuddle up to someone as unresponsive as C. Every now and then, I'd grab him and plonk him beside her on the sofa. Then I'd take her hand in mine and guide it over his fur. But I didn't do it often enough. He became everyone's best friend, but C's.

Lately, though, I have been bringing him to her on a daily basis and they've both been growing used to the routine. C appears to enjoy it and readily opens up her hand to let me pass it over his head, ears, back and legs while I say each body part aloud to her. I now hold her upper arm so that she is actually gliding her hand along herself.

Yesterday I brought Dude to C's class for her classmates to enjoy a therapy session with him too. It was a resounding success. One of the children actually smiled the whole time. The teacher, who had forewarned me that she doesn't touch any animals, was nevertheless moved to get her camera and photograph each child with the dog to share with the parents. I promised the staff I'd bring him again next week. (Tip: I placed a piece of cookie on each child's lap before lifting him up onto their laps and supported him with my body the whole time. Also, kept it short; about 5 minutes per child.)

Later that day, when I brought him to C for their usual session, he snuggled up to her like he never had before.

The sad part of this story is that for years the children received weekly pet therapy (albeit with rabbits, not dogs). The therapy was dropped this year. Although I asked her teacher repeatedly "But, why?" she couldn't give me a more helpful response than "He (the therapist) doesn't come to us anymore."

Presumably, if I'd ask the principal about it I'd get the old throwaway line "shortage of funds". She is an old friend of ours from way back and promised us major improvements when she took the helm three years ago. Hmmm. We're still waiting.

Has anybody else had good results with dog therapy for the profoundly disabled?

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