Monday, September 8, 2008

Ross' Stunt Double

One of Ross' first "pet therapy" clients was a child who suffers from psychosis. Her functioning is very low, and there are few activities that she can effectively participate in throughout the day. While she appears to comprehend much of what she hears, her speech is very difficult to comprehend, and her behavior appears very impulsive. She reportedly loved her family dog, so we decided to give it a shot and see how she would respond to Ross.

Initially, I wasn't sure how effective it would be for her, or how positive it would be for Ross. During her initial session, she picked Ross up completely off the ground, and plopped him in her lap, sometimes poking and pulling at him. What I was amazed by was Ross' response. He held completely still - not scared still, but calm still. He flopped in her arms as she fumbled to get him in her lap, he allowed her to mold him like a clay figure as she got him in just the right position, and he ignored her as she poked and prodded. It was truly incredible! I knew then that Ross had a special sense for kids with needs, and if any dog could serve these kids, he was the one!

What was even  more amazing is the effect that Ross has had on this child. Despite her disorganized behavior the rest of the day, she is a completely different child in Ross' presence. She quickly learned to follow directions to be more gentle with him, responding to reminders about him needing to be "safe" or to not "hurt" him. Clearly, she cares about him, even if she doesn't have the words to tell anyone. When she is having a difficult time focusing, she responds to requests to show Ross something, or for Ross to walk her back to where she needs to be. When Ross is around, she more frequently answers questions with logical responses, typically one word, but comprehensible and calm. The shift in her behavioral presentation and cognitive functioning is incredible. But what leaves me in awe more than anything else, are the many moments when she has cuddled up with him, stroked his fur gently, and fallen asleep with him in her lap. The moments are short, but they are some of the only moments of peace in her otherwise chaotic and confusing life.

It is because of Ross' incredible affect on this child's life, that he has been welcomed back to the office on a daily basis.

Despite Ross' leisurely work schedule, mine is not quite so flexible. So, we purchased a stunt double for this child to cuddle with when Ross is not available. We do not pretend that the life-size, real looking, dog is Ross or any other breathing creature. He's just a reminder that Ross is around for her, and will be back soon.

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