Animals are an intrinsic part of the human experience, providing joy and comfort in extraordinary ways. Some animals provide affection at home while others are trained to perform specific tasks or services for different people, depending on their needs. These needs can range from boosting morale in a therapy session to helping owners safely cross the road and maneuver public areas to acting as alarm systems for when their owner is experiencing a medical emergency or crisis.
Youth at Nexus-PATH Luther Hall have the opportunity to benefit from their own extraordinary animal, Bowen. Bowen is a Standard Poodle who works alongside his owner Emily Jones, Licensed Clinical Social Worker and Operations Director at Nexus-PATH Luther Hall. In October 2022 Emily got Bowen because she knew she wanted a pet partner for therapy work. Why a poodle? Jones had several reasons for choosing this breed, starting with their coats – they shed less and are less likely than other dogs to cause an allergic reaction in people.
“Poodles are actually the second smartest dog breed,” said Jones, “They were originally bred as hunters…I think they are phenomenal dogs; they are smart, playful and love people.”
Bowen’s training to become a therapy dog started as soon as he came home with Emily. Temperament testing is one of the first steps in the process. Checking your animal’s temperament is a way to evaluate if your pet’s character and behavior aligns with what is needed in a therapy animal.
“For example, a police dog will need to be high-drive, high agility, verses a therapy dog, you want a dog that has confidence, and very amiable to interacting with people and not be phased by a lot,” Jones explains the temperament testing process.
After Bowen passed his temperament test with flying colors, Jones began taking Bowen to her private practice office to begin his career as a therapy dog.
Bowen experienced regular puppy classes, as well as Canine Good Citizen testing (an online program that provides the perfect framework for training your dog to be a polite member of society), but also desensitization classes, to help prepare him for his work. He then completed his evaluation with Pet Partners Therapy Animal Program to prepare him for working with the teenagers at Luther Hall.
Boosting Morale at Luther Hall
Bowen visits Luther Hall on Mondays and Fridays. He usually starts his day by providing a gentle morning welcome and affection that is appropriate and beneficial for the youth at Luther Hall. Bowen’s main job is bringing morale to Luther Hall, helping to bring a calm energy and incentives to the youth throughout the day.
“When I use Bowen in individual sessions, he is purely that heavy head laying in your lap that’s giving you that calm, grounding presence. He’s comedic relief, he’s hilarious, that has been a huge morale booster for the staff…everybody is always so excited for Mondays and Fridays when Bowen gets to be here”.
Therapy sessions with Bowen vary and Jones pays close attention to when a situation or crisis may be too much for Bowen. “I have to be his advocate,” said Jones, “If I am concerned that whatever is happening is impacting Bowen in a negative way, then my first response is to protect him.”
So why therapy animals?
“Animals in general have the ability to help people who can’t regulate with another human, regulate with an animal,” said Jones. “There is just something about being in an animal’s presence that automatically triggers your brain to take a beat…it’s really phenomenal…there’s almost this subconscious reaction to something that is more vulnerable than you that’s very different than a human interaction.”
Many youths find that trusting adults after traumatic experiences can be extremely difficult, and animals can help provide a non-human interaction with safe physical touch and affection.
“We as a society have really moved away from physical connection with one another…an animal gives you that ability to have some sort of physical affection,” said Jones “…there are so many of them [youth in residential treatment] that just need someone to hug them, but because adults are not safe, and we [staff] have to be careful about boundaries, having an animal to be able to be part of that physical affection (that is a need, not a want) can greatly impact these youth.”
Animals can have a tremendous impact on humans, especially for people who are living with physical disabilities, mental illness, or PTSD. Here at Nexus, we are so thankful for our furry friends who help make our youth’s lives a little brighter and help to provide much needed comfort and support.