A therapy-dog Sheltie coaxes a child of out his shell.
Janet C. |
It was only our second visit as a dog-therapy team, but Melody, my Shetland Sheepdog, who was just over 1 year old, seemed right at home. We were visiting a children’s rehabilitation center where dogs help patients with their therapy. Gently stroking an animal might be fun, but it also has therapeutic purpose for a child who has limited use of an arm. Some children resist doing their walking exercises, but once you put a leash in their hand, suddenly they are willing to try. The dogs sometimes get results where therapists don’t.
During one visit, Melody and I were accompanied by two other volunteers and their therapy dogs. We were visiting with several children when a 14-year-old boy named Michael was brought into the therapy room to join us. He was in a wheelchair and you could see that he had extensive neurological damage. As Melody and I interacted with some of the other children in the room, my eyes kept going back to Michael. He showed little interest in the dogs or the humans who were trying to shower him with attention. When a handler and dog visiting with Michael were called to the other side of the room, he did not seem to notice that they had even left. He just looked so sad, so disconnected.
I went over and introduced Melody and myself to him and asked Michael if he would like to hold Melody on his lap. He couldn’t speak, but his therapist said it would be alright so I gently placed Melody on the boy’s lap.
Melody looked up at Michael with her big brown eyes and then repositioned herself, moving her butt one way, then another until she had just the right spot on his lap. She snuggled her body up close against his and then gently nuzzled her face into Michael’s neck.
To my amazement, he threw his head back laughing and started trying to pet her. I gently took his hand and ran it down Melody’s soft coat and he laughed again. Michael’s whole demeanor changed. His spirit came alive as he continued to interact with my dog. At that moment I felt something in my heart that I had never felt before. I will never forget Michael or the feeling he left me with, and I knew then that Melody and I had been brought together for a reason.
Melody and I have been a therapy team now for nine years visiting hospitals, nursing homes, schools and libraries. I never tire of seeing the small miracles that she brings to someone’s life. Whether I sneeze and Melody goes to the tissue box and brings me a tissue, or she lifts her paw to wave goodbye, the laughter and smiles from the people we visit makes life very rewarding.
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