SAY Counselors find success with animal therapy

SAY Counselors find success with animal therapy

Deb and Caitlin with Jackson and Dylan

SAY’s unique animal therapy began informally when Deb Skinner and Caitlin Maus, both interns in our Medi-Cal Counseling Clinic began bringing their registered service dogs in to meet some of their clients. Caitlin and Deb soon found that these two special dogs were great for helping some of the children they were counseling open up.

Dylan, an 8 year old rescue dog from Lake County Rescue, is a Boxer Lab mix with a calm, gentle personality. When asked about the benefits she sees in bringing Dylan to work with her, Caitlin explains, “I bring Dylan on days when I have clients who are resistant to talking. It takes the focus off of me, and off of being here in counseling. With children who are really attached to animals, it can help them relate to me.”

Caitlin had a client who was having trouble acting out at home and in working with Caitlin and Dylan, she began to change her own behavior. When Dylan is good during a session, Caitlin allows her clients to give Dylan a small treat, but if Dylan acts out, he doesn’t get the treat. At home, Caitlin’s client was learning the same lesson with her own parents, but in taking the focus off of her during her counseling sessions and placing it onto Dylan, she was able to understand that her own actions can have consequences.

Deb’s dog Jackson is a 10 month old shepherd mix adopted from the Sonoma Humane Society. Jackson lost a paw in a mauling from another dog when he was a puppy and required extensive surgeries to heal, but while he wears a colorful bandage each day, his disability doesn’t slow him down. Deb says that while she doesn’t point it out to kids because it’s so visible, in a subtle way, his disability can serve as a message that what happened to him doesn’t define him. “That’s a common message that we’re trying to communicate to the kids we work with that ‘what happened to you was a very, very bad thing and it may have left a scar, but it doesn’t have to hold you back.'”

Jackson is an energetic, friendly dog, who loved being around people, and for energetic clients who speak better when they’re moving, she says that Jackson “gives them something to focus on and gets their bodies moving.”

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