Therapy teams have successes and challenges every time they go to work. Challenges may include changing populations, changing environments, the dogs becoming stressed and the owners becoming stressed. But it is the successes, no matter how small, that keep a team going.
One facility in Las Vegas where challenged teens and young adults live in group home is tracking the successes and challenges for one of the city’s first diligently monitored animal-assisted therapy endeavor and just celebrated one year of working together with a Delta Pet Partners therapy team.
Six clients live in the home with a full rotating staff. Often there are four or five dogs participating so almost one-to-one ratio of client to therapy team. The staff and clients have come to know the returning dogs but often a new team is added to the mix. This keeps the program fresh and thus able to track reactions to a new dog versus those the clients have come to expect.
Here is just a sampling of the feedback shared with the therapy teams and how the program is being measured. All names have been changed to protect the clients’ privacy:
- Arlene is not very comfortable with human touch, but does allow a small dog onto her lap. She smiles and always appears comfortable with the animal on her lap, and shakes her head back and forth which is, in most cases a sign of happiness. She has reached out on her own without hand over hand assistance and touched the animal’s fur, and the only time she was startled was when kissed by the dog, but happily so!
- Terry has a fear of dogs and has a tendency of pulling hair so the staff implemented a plan to teach her not to grab, pinch or pull the animal’s hair. Upon the first visit she simply stared at the little dog and then closer to the end of the visit showed signs of interest by pulling his stroller closer to her bed. Upon visiting a second time there was a new introduction to a bigger dog who sat next to the patient’s bed while she gave him a once over. During that visit we used hand over hand assistance to show the patient how to properly pet the dog with only slight hesitation. She did during that visit get a hold of the dog’s leg hair but was redirected and shown not to pull hair and the dog was not hurt or bothered by this at all. During the third visit the patient was extremely vocal and happy and we had a new visitor, another large dog and the patient was very happy during this visit laughing and smiling and one of the most remarkable steps of this visit was when the patient reached out her hand palm flat and petted the dog without hand over hand assistance and without pulling or pinching. She even rubbed her face on his soft fur.
- Carlo has responded wonderfully with each visit and enjoys running his hands through the animal’s hair and always remains calm and happy with a dog on his lap. He smiles and pets the dog on his own despite his limited ability to use his body.
- Ivan is another patient who has responded wonderfully to every visit from the dogs. He smiles and laughs every time the dogs come to visit whether big or small, but is able to have more physical contact with the smaller dogs. He enjoys having someone assist him to pet the dogs.
- Beth is not very fond of touching things but it does seem she enjoys the comfort of having a small calm dog on her lap. She occasionally will reach out and pet the dog’s fur but usually is just as happy to have his company and when he is removed from her lap she tends to vocally disagree. While she cannot say what she wants she does hint at not liking something by “singing” in a high soprano voice.
- Roberta has a wonderful time every time the dogs come to visit. When she is alert she smiles and laughs and loves having all the animals near her. She reaches out to pet all the animals despite her limited ability to move her arms properly, and she enjoys when the smaller dogs sit on her lap so she can pet them.
The teams selected to participate in this opportunity have to be the calmest and have the most professional handlers. Only the steadiest of the dogs are introduced and the handler’s complete understanding of their dog and subtle control is critical. Never is a dog or human in danger of being hurt and the children are not afraid because the dogs do not bark, jump, or otherwise threaten the purpose of the interaction.
So how do you measure success of a properly managed animal-assisted therapy endeavor?
With expert professional observations and participation , teams that are highly skilled and proud to be part of an overall care plan and the efforts of everyone to bring out the best in everyone – client, handler, dog!
And perhaps it is stated best by one of the health professionals overseeing the program:
“The progress our children have made is absolutely mind boggling and really proves it’s never too late to learn new things no matter the mental state. I can’t even begin to tell you how amazed I am about how well it all flows together The atmosphere whenever the Love Dogs are here is by far the best therapy we could ever ask for…but everyone continuously gives more. The relationships that develop between staff and team member are really powerful stuff and you all help re-inspire us when things start to get a little grey around the edges. Thank you for all you do! You have all made a huge difference!”
For volunteers this is the true currency – knowing that what we do makes a difference.