Animal Assisted Therapy

Last week we were outside doing some yard work and letting my dogs run in the yard. We have a Chihuahua we recently rescued and a Stafford shire terrier named “Colo” that I got a few months after leaving me foster home. I noticed the amount of gray hair she has now and it made me realize she’s now 7 years old. It also made me realize how much she has been through with me and how she has helped me through it. From leaving my foster home and aging out of foster care into becoming a man, struggling to overcome emotional, financial, and social struggles. I’ve gone from being alone renting a house that was falling apart to buying my own home and now having a family. The only living thing that has been around and constant this entire time was her and I don’t know if I would have made it without her.

Animals can make an impact on a child’s therapy process. At Coyote Hill, the foster home I stayed at, we sometimes did animal therapy with horses. Though mainly dogs, horses, and dolphins are the most talked about when it comes to animal assisted therapy many animals can be used such as fish, hamsters or even farm animals. I never really understood at the time where the therapy came into play, but after doing some research and taking a step back to examine the therapy process more, I seen that not realizing where therapy comes in is probably why it works so well.

I think that anyone that has owned an animal has caught themselves talking to them or maybe even having a conversation. It feels safe because you’re not going to get any negative feedback, but you do get a reaction. The same way we have to build up trust so do animals. The thing that makes the relationship work so well is that animals are non judgmental and they remember their trust. My dog has seen me in my highs and lows, times that I will never talk about and dark places, but no matter what, when I get home she runs up, jumps up on me ( something I could never break) and lets me know how much she missed me the only 9 hours I was gone.

Using pet therapy can also reduce depression, anxiety, and other symptoms of post-traumatic stress disorder. Petting a dog that you have been bonded with helps with relaxation, releasing stress, increasing morale, increased calmness, decrease anxiety, improve a persons outlook, reduce the need for medication, reduce fear and anxiety in people with a psychiatric conditions. Looking back I can see how my dog helped me with these things. I was diagnosed with PTSD and anxiety which has made a major impact on my life. Often times I find myself unable to sleep, paranoid, or anxious. When I had Colo next to me all of that decreased. I knew I had someone that I could trust that was keeping an extra eye on me and willing to protect me just like I will protect her. I built up bond and trust neither of which I thought I could muster up after abuse and foster care.

I try to keep things simple when I analyze something. To me a lot of my therapy has been retraining my mind out of bad habits. When your mind is constantly under fear and worry you unknowingly train your mind to be on constant alert, vigilant and you become untrusting. You can learn to build that back with some good therapy and maybe the help of animals. If you’re a former foster kid or have foster kids, are in the financial place to take care of a pet, and would like a companion, check out your local animal shelter. Many of our four legged friends need a forever family too!

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2 Responses to Animal Assisted Therapy

  1. Momma T says:

    Thank you for sharing this post! We are in the process of becoming a foster family and are researching ways to help the children entrusted to us.

    We have an amazing black lab, who without a doubt will be great therapy for these children. Because of your post I am checking into getting her certified as a therapy dog.

    Thank you so much for your candid and honest posts! They are a terrific help!

  2. This post is wonderful! I am a counselor, who happens to also utilize my certified therapy dog in sessions. My clients have really grown to love him, and sometimes I’m confident they get more from him then me, which is A-okay in my book. I’m also getting ready to do some research for a residential treatment facility who also incorporates a canine program into their work. Your story has just reaffirmed to me the importance of this process. I wish you, Colo and your new Chiauhaha the best in your future! Amber Bach-Gorman, MS, NCC, LPC – North Dakota State University

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