I bring my dog, Millie to work with me. I believe her presence benefits my clients and there are scientific studies to back me up.
The use of animals by health professionals in their work is called animal assisted therapy. Numerous studies that show that interacting with animals helps people lower their blood pressure, increases engagement and reduces anxiety and depression.
For years, I have observed that on the occasions when clients brought their own dog to sessions, they were more relaxed and seemed to find it easier to raise difficult issues. I’ve also supervised interns who have used dogs in their work with children and teens. Magic can happen when a client massages a dog’s fur and discusses their concerns. Hard stuff seems less hard, for that moment.
About three years ago I began searching in earnest, for a dog I could train to be a “therapy assistant.” I wanted a hypoallergenic dog who was young, but no longer a puppy. I knew the dog needed to be easygoing, confident, trainable and happy to meet new people. With that list, I also knew the search would take a while and it did. There were some promising leads and an equal number of dead ends along the way.
I found Millie in August of 2019; she is a Maltese poodle cross with hair not fur. She doesn’t shed which is important for clients who may be allergic. I think she had a pretty good life in the approximately three years she was with her previous owners. I’m not sure why things went sour with her previous owner but at some point she ran off. When the finder showed up to return Millie, the owner instead, surrendered Millie to her. As a result, I got a text from a friend of the finder saying she had found the perfect dog for me. I said yes to adopting Millie before I met her. She soon began life as a therapy assistant. She loves her job and takes it seriously, in a dog sort of way.
As a therapy assistant, Millie’s job is to interact with people.
This is very different from the role of service dogs or emotional support animals whose job it is to be of service to their handlers/owners and should not be distracted unless given permission. If you are interested in learning more about therapy animals and how they differ from service and emotional support animals, here is a good article https://www.therapydogs.com/emotional-support-dogs/
It is fine to engage with Millie. She loves it. I do ask that you discourage jumping up when she greets you. Don’t worry if you forget. I’ll remind her. If you want some cuddle time, just call her to you. If she knows you and senses a need she will likely respond. It is also fine to ignore her. She doesn’t mind that either. Millie’s role in client sessions varies quite a bit. Sometimes she is active and other times just sleeps. Almost always she can be counted on to provide a very friendly greeting. I can probably arrange to have Millie not be in your sessions so please let me know if you prefer this.
Late in 2019, Millie began specialized training as a therapy dog and will likely be getting certified by one of several therapy dog organizations.
Check back later for more information on this. We will start with the American Kennel Club’s Canine Good Citizen award which is available to all dogs regardless of their breed or chosen profession. Millie will primarily work with me at my office but we may also visit sites that are interested in having her bring her unique combination of enthusiasm and calm to share with others.
A special note about confidentiality: Millie won’t bark your story to anyone, but it is possible she may recognize you outside of a session. Don’t worry she is friendly with most people, so no one need know that she actually knows you.
Assistant Therapist - Millie
Millie is a Maltese poodle cross with hair not fur. She doesn’t shed which is important for clients who may be allergic.