“This feels so good!” These are the 4 words that our dog/handler team Koda and Beth hear most often during their pet therapy visits. Here is their story, as told by Beth – just one of many like it from Pets Helping People volunteer teams:
“When my patient, laid-back English lab came along telling me she needed a ‘job,’ we went through training with Pets Helping People. We have been a certified team for almost a year. Through the PHP program, we visit Sojourner Family Peace Center, a shelter for victims of domestic abuse, twice a month. We hang out with the kids in the day care center while their moms meet in group sessions. Sometimes we meet with 20 kids and other times only 5. We visit with all ages of children from infants to teens. It is fun to watch Koda as she plays catch and tries out new tricks with the older kids and then sits patiently with a rubber slice of pizza in her mouth while a toddler “makes her dinner.” Often there are children who are terrified of her, but from a distance they observe the other kids interacting, and over the course of an hour slowly inch closer until they, too, are patting her belly.
“One teen in particular was very scared, but by the end of the session she was ‘spooning’ with Koda on the floor, both of them with their eyes closed, and I heard her say those 4 words… During another visit, a 14-year-old girl sat down with Koda, and after about 10 minutes of stroking Koda, she suddenly said, ‘I’m being bullied at school’ (because she liked different things from her friends). I was stunned that she would share this with me, but we then had a long talk about how it’s ok to be different and that it takes a lot of strength to make that decision. (I also made sure her mom and teachers knew.) I was well aware that without Koda there, this teen would never have opened up to me.
At the end of each visit, the moms come in to pick up their children, so Koda gets another round of visitors. And again, I hear those 4 words as the moms take advantage of some snuggle time, ‘This feels so good!’”
Jennifer Ramirez, Associate Director of Shelter Services-Sojourner Family Peace Center, describes described the value of Beth and Koda’s visits:
“The benefits have been tremendous. Beth comes in with Koda and teaches the kids to do tricks. She allows the kids to walk Koda, which helps the younger children get focused. Beth has shared success stories about other children and Koda, which has helped our children feel more comfortable. She even has Koda go fetch kids’ shoes, which is really cute to watch.”
Koda and Beth’s story is just one example of why we do what we do. Our responsibility is to provide people of all ages and abilities this humane moment of animal-assisted therapy.
This story was used for our 2019 annual fundraising appeal.
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