Optimist presently uses dogs for
our Pet Therapy Program and all
dogs have been Canine Good
Citizen Trained (CGC) through
the American Kennel Club and
well as certified as Pet Therapy
Dogs through Therapy Dog International (TDI). As
such, the dogs are always with a handler and never
alone with the residents.
Volunteers and their dogs visit weekly to work with our residents. Acknowledging that some
residents are not good candidates for traditional “talk” (individual or group) therapy, Pet
Therapy offers the residents an alternate, less intimidating, form of therapy as each resident
sits with their own handler/dog team. The residents are able to get outside of themselves,
their problems, and thoughts and become completely attentive to the dogs. The dogs have a
very meditative effect and you can actually feel the level of focus between the residents and
their dogs. Group activities include reading articles about dogs, (with related discussions),
art projects, playing games, as well as exercises in Nose Work and Agility. It doesn’t take
long before the residents are dropping to the floor, making eye contact with the dogs, laying
next to them, petting, grooming and giving the dogs “high fives”. Providing an opportunity for
residents to interact with consistent, trustworthy companions, the dogs offer an experience the
residents haven’t had a lot of exposure to previously. It has proven to be a very effective
activity that cuts through the “tough guy” layer like nothing else we have seen.
Individual sessions are available as needed for the residents. The dogs can go to the dorms
or the residents can take the dogs to the field, garden, etc. It doesn’t take long for the topic to
go from the dog to whatever is on their mind. Dogs have proven to be an excellent intervention
across the board.
Relatedly, the experiences in Pet Therapy generalize to the dorm’s treatment setting.
The residents have a very neutral topic to start any session or caseload with, which always
expands to their childhood, home life, and so on.