Therapy Dog Training pt 4 & 5

Last week was a bit more hectic. The before/after school program for school aged kids I also work at changed the staff’s hours to accommodate the kids for all day care. The kids had fall break, and let me tell you they acted like it was summer and they weren’t going back to school for months :). Since the kids were out of school, we had our hands full with providing all day enrichment activities. I enjoy this type of work, especially when the staff are all onboard with programming and working as a team. 

The kids being at our center all day gives me an opportunity in knowing them as individuals and knowing their interests. At times, I’m impressed with their higher order thinking and critically assessing situations for say an 8 year old. This motivates me in building upon basic activities and challenging them in new ways for their growth.

At the same time in being amazed by the inquisitive nature and their willingness in trying new things, I’m also confounded by the weight resting on some of their shoulders. One child blew me away. Let’s call her Sally (I’m protecting her identity by not disclosing her real name or age). She’s in 4th grade and new this school year as well as our program. Sally spent much of her time over fall break hanging out in the same area as me. I suggested to her to try another area so she can be around different kids, be exposed to different activities and maybe take the chance in going outside. She refused. At one point, she seemed withdrawn and disinterested. I asked Sally how she was feeling and responded “I’m fine”. I know this answer isn’t really answering the question and with her body language, she didn’t seem happy. In engaging her in conversation she shared with me when she was younger (remember, she’s about 9 or 10 years old), Sally thought about suicide. After she shared with me what happened and how her parents were and continue to be involved in treating her depression, I thought about Bernie and our therapy dog training.

After 5 weeks of training, I see how Bernie will excel in opening someone’s heart who is missing love and compassion in their lives. Bernie’s joy is visible and palatable. You can see his excitement for meeting new people just exudes from him during class. His tail happily wagging, his loose and wiggly body posture when someone comes up to him to greet him he sometimes can’t help himself from hopping up to kiss them (especially the ladies). His once fearful nature of hiding and running away from something unfamiliar, he now greets it with enthusiasm and above all else, trust. Trust that the unfamiliar thing won’t hurt him or scare him in any way.

The intersection between children needing extra love and sensitivity and Bernie’s over abundance of giving will fill a hole at our center.  My hope is that this vision of incorporating some level of animal assisted therapy is shared by the management staff there. I know Bernie’s presence will inevitably unlock the children’s hearts and enable them to expand their social-emotional growth further. 

We still have some things to work on like unsolicited kisses, but I’m excited about our upcoming session with the Boy Scouts and our final exams. 

Let’s here one for Bernie 😄🐾❤️💥



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