Live from White Plains: David Frei on animal-assisted therapy

November 20, 2009 at 5:43 pm Leave a comment

I’m here at the Cat Writers Association conference, and David Frei is speaking on pet-assisted therapy. I apologize in advance for any typos or missing info. I’m typing as fast as I can. I have misspelled Teigh’s name throughout, I see; it’s Teigh, not Tighe.

What they bring to us every single day is something very special.

Right now David is showing us a fabulous DVD of dogs, including James and Uno, visiting children at hospitals.

The images say it all, David says. You walk into the room with the animal and the energy changes immediately. We visit at the Women’s HEalth Unit at Sloan Kettering every week; we visit the ROnald McDonald House; the reaction is the same. The parents will say to us, ‘that’s the first time she’s smiled since she’s been here.’

Telling about visiting a man with dementia, an angry man who feels dumped by his family. As often happens with a boy and his dog, i’m an experimental case to see if we can make something happen. This guy looked up and he looked angry, and then he saw Belle, and he lights up and starts slapping his knee and says “Come here, you knucklehead,” and Belle goes and breaks the rules and jumps in his lap. I’m fighting back tears and the administrator is fighting back tears. Turns out the man had had Brittanys all his life and thought Belle was his dog.

When we’re dealing with kids, we say when a child is sick, the parents are sick too. when you’re making that child smile, you look over and see mom and dad and they’re smiling too.

You can walk into that room with a dog and talk to them about their dog at home or just get them to smile.

Tells about a girl with a spinal tumor who asks to walk Belle; she was fired up and ready to go. THe physical therapist told me, you just got her to do something I’ve been trying to get her to do for weeks.

David telling about his wife just starting to volunteer with their Brittany Tighe and how she decided to get a master’s in theology instead of an MBA and wrote her thesis on animal-assisted therapy and is now director of spiritual care for Ronald McDonald House. Our dogs were the first dogs ever allowed into bone marrow stem cell transplant center. When they start letting dogs in there it’s because they’ve pretty much decided they’re not going to make it. David is choking up telling a story about a girl they visited there who passed away. Her friends came over and told us that she loved the dogs and they loved the dogs for what they had done for her. I like working in the dog so nobody can see when I tear up.

Ron McD house gives us an adventure every week. there’s a kid who’s been there five years from Australia. He came there after his parents had been told he had only six months to live.

Telling about two young men at Mt. Sinai who see them with the dogs on a visit and one of them whistles at Tighe. Tighe rolls over for one of them. I think there’s a little food motivation going on there, David says, because the boys are being fed. The other one drops his arm off the chair and Tighe runs over and gives him five. By this time, they’re all crying and laughing, and Tighe thinks he’s the greatest thing ever.

I’m not changing the world; I’m just the guy on the other end of the leash. Now is telling about a woman who is paraplegic and gets a visit from Tighe. He gets up on her bed and lays there like a rock for 20 minutes–this is a dog who runs crazy in Central Park and chases squirrels, other crazy behavior, etc.

What we go through is nothing compared to what these kids go through every day. here’s another thing we often don’t talk about is the staff, what they go through. The staff breaks out from what they’re doing and they’re smiling to when they have an opportunity to interact with a dog.

Delta certifies rabbits. Rabbits are good for working in burn units, David says.

I think anybody who has a pet knows intuitively that when you go home and interact with them you feel better.

Now the science is starting to show it: your blood pressure goes down, your heart rate goes down; we need to do more research, but the medical profession is saying that this is good for patients.

Now I’m trying not to cry as he tells a touching story about the death of Belle and the relationship he had developed with a homeless veteran because of her.

We created Angel on a Leash as a charitable entity for the WKC four years ago and now it is a separate organization. We’re in 12 different facilities around the county…

Uno’s been a wonderful dog for us and I know many of you are dog writers as well and are familiar with Uno. Getting ready to show us another DVD. Telling us about Uno visiting Walter Reed after going to the White House. Uno met a double amputee marine there, who is now on the board of Angel on a Leash. We’re seeing Uno and this young man, Joshua Bleill, interact with kids at the Ronald McDonald House.

Just like when I saw this 18 months ago, people are blowing their noses, wiping away tears. Amy Shojai is pointing out that show cats would be good at this because they’re used to being handled.

Time to break for lunch; David is heading home to deal with a dog problem. Uh, oh!

Cavalier laugh for the day: I have a Mardi Gras mask, one of those half masks on a stick with feathers on it. I picked it up the other day to put it away–it had been out for Halloween–and on a whim I put it up to my face and turned toward Harper. Imagine a happy dog face immediately changing to horrified. Then she started barking at me. Too funny!

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