Four-legged therapists

Stacey Henry, the Children’s Program Coordinator at Brighter Tomorrows, and her family wait for the animal costume contest. Their Chick-fil-A themed dog costumes won first prize. Photo by Phil Cerroni.

Stacey Henry, the Children’s Program Coordinator at Brighter Tomorrows, and her family wait for the animal costume contest. Their Chick-fil-A themed dog costumes won first prize. Photo by Phil Cerroni.

Domestic violence shelter raises awareness about pets’ contribution to healing

The adage that dogs are man’s best friend is a well earned moniker. They stand beside their masters though thick and thin, but sometimes the two are ripped apart when they have the most need of each other. As Domestic Violence Month wears to a close, Brighter Tomorrows, a local domestic violence shelter, hosted the first fundraiser for its Purple Paw Project, which makes it possible for victims of abuse to keep their pets when they flee their abusers. The event was held at Irving’s Lively Park on Oct. 26.

“The Purple Paws Project (raises) awareness and some money for victims who cannot leave their violent situations, because they cannot bring their pets into shelters. We just don’t have any way to take care of the pets in the communal living situation of a domestic violence shelter, (so we want to) kennel their dogs if they need to be with us. And we can take care of the humans, and we can take care of their pets,” said Brighter Tomorrows Executive Director, Diana Franzetti.

The first shelter in Dallas County to attempt something like this, Brighter Tomorrows already includes questions regarding victims’ pets in their entry questionnaire. They do not, however, have enough funds to sustain kenneling dogs and are trying to set up a foster program.

“We are in the process of figuring that out now,” said Stacey Henry, the Children’s Program Coordinator at Brighter Tomorrows. “Right now we have great relationship with Prairie Paws, which is Grand Prairie’s Animal Services, and Irving’s Animal Services has (given) great support to us right now. So (we will) probably (work) with them along with other people in the community to figure out where we’re going.”

Henry could hardly stress enough how instrumental a pet can be in the successful outcome of therapy, especially with children.

“Canines are amazing support,” she said. “They provide a lot of comfort to kids (that) really, humans can’t provide… There’s no judgment; they’re not going to talk back; they’re just going to listen and let you love on them and love you. They can pick up a lot on your senses and your emotions as well. And that’s really comforting for a kid, to feel like they’re really understood.”

Although therapists already use animals as a part of therapy, Henry thinks children can benefit even more from going through the process with their own pets.

“It’s like their best friend… When someone who has always been there for them, has always comforted them, is no longer there… that’s just being torn from family, so it can have an incredible impact in increasing their anxiety and their stress,” she said.

Robin Ashman-Terrell, the owner of Good Dog Fetch (a company that teaches dogs basic social skills), trains some of her animals as therapy dogs.

“We find that sometimes kids respond better to dogs than they do to humans because dogs can be trusted, and dogs love you unconditionally,” Ashman-Terrell said. “So a lot of times the kids will ask to have a therapy dog. The therapy dog is chosen for them. We go into their sessions with the therapist, and we sit and talk and the child talks, and they work with the dog, so they have someone they can trust.

“Sometimes I have had sessions where kids really don’t trust (adults). They don’t want to discuss what’s happened to them, because it’s scary, and it’s aggressive and it was an adult usually that they know that abused them so… When they come in with the dog, they talk to the dog; they play with the dog; they interact with the dog. Their trust level goes up; their blood pressure goes down. They feel more relaxed, and they feel like, sometimes, they are about to tell the dog their secrets, and the dog’s not going to tell anybody. So the fact of whether the therapist can hear it or not, they are still unloading themselves. They are still discussing what has happened to them so they can start to heal.”

About the Author

Phil Cerroni
Phil began working for the Rambler in February 2012 as a freelance writer. After graduating from the University of Dallas in May 2012 with a BA in Drama, he continued at the paper and began freelancing in the local theater and television industries before taking a full-time position with the Rambler in February 2013. Phil is as member of the American Theatre Critics Association and the International Association of Theatre Critics.