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Home » How Therapy Animals Help, with Courtney Trzcinski, Laura Rogers & Gracie | EDB 320 – DIFFERENT BRAINS

How Therapy Animals Help, with Courtney Trzcinski, Laura Rogers & Gracie | EDB 320 – DIFFERENT BRAINS

How Therapy Animals Help, with Courtney Trzcinski, Laura Rogers & Gracie | EDB 320 - DIFFERENT BRAINS

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Canine Assisted Therapy’s Courtney Trzcinski, Laura Rogers, and Gracie share what therapy animals do, and how they positively impact those with social and health challenges.

Canine Assisted Therapy, Inc. is a pet therapy organization located in Broward County, Florida. Their mission is to improve the health and well-being of people in need through the healing power of the human-animal bond. From their website: “Utilizing our certified handlers and their therapy dogs, we are dedicated to providing pet therapy to children and adults who have developmental, emotional, or physical challenges, as well as those in need of comfort and companionship.”

Courtney Trzcinski is the director of outreach and development at Canine Assisted Therapy. Laura Rogers is a volunteer dog handler there, where she shares her dog Gracie with the community. 

For more about Canine Assisted Therapy: catdogs.org

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FULL TRANSCRIPTION


Note: the following transcription was automatically generated. Some imperfections may exist.   

 

HACKIE REITMAN, M.D. (HR):  

Hi, everyone, welcome to Exploring Different Brains. I’m Dr. Hackie Reitman, and today we’re excited to have some special guests here. We have Gracie – is the star from Canine Assisted Therapy. And you’re also we might mention we have Courtney Trzcinski, Laura Rogers, here in supporting roles of the star, Gracie. They’re going to tell us all about animal assisted therapy, and the name of their organization is Canine Assisted Therapy. Let’s introduce yourselves. You go first. Well,

LAURA ROGERS (LR):  

hi, my name is Laura. And I’ve been a volunteer with canine assisted therapy for a little over five years now with my dog, Gracie, and I will introduce her she’s a Labrador retriever, and she’s seven years old.

HR:  

Great.

COURTNEY TRZCINSKI (CT):  

I don’t know how to follow that. My name is Courtney and I am the Director of Development and Outreach at Canine Assisted Therapy. And I’ve been with the organization for 11 years.

HR:  

Tell our audience: what those Canine Assisted Therapy do?

CT:  

We provide animal assisted therapy and animal assisted activities to the south Florida community, from Palm Beach County, through Broward and down into Miami Dade County. And we send a therapy dog to a hospital or a nursing home was whoever is requesting our services. They would get a team and a team is the handler and the dog to go and provide pet therapy.

HR:  

Okay, so Laura. So a nursing home facility or a facility requests you come over there with Gracie. So you go into the hospital or assisted living facility where you go, tell us what happens. 

LR:  

Well, it’s magic. You know, Gracie and I have been doing this for a long time. So Gracie really knows her job. And at this point, we’re kind of a well practice team. But we’re able to go in and how we interact with people is very different based on the facilities that we go to the abilities and status of people who we visit. If we were going to a nursing home, we might visit in a community area that would have several people around, that may be people who are more mobile or in social. Other times we might travel and go to different rooms. Most commonly Gracie and I go to a local hospital. And we visit staff we visit patients we visit in the waiting room. And the best part of every visit is when you walk into a room and maybe somebody’s sad or feeling lonely. And then they see Gracie, and just the complete transformation on their face just being so just completely changing the moment for them and making them happy. It’s wonderful. 

HR:  

That’s great. You speak about the different populations you go to visit and your experience which populations benefit the most would you say, from therapy animals?

CT:  

That’s a large question, because I mean, everyone benefits but who I would say trauma survivors. We had dogs at Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School in Parkland, after the shooting and 2018. And the students told us the only reason they came back and walked onto that campus was because they knew this therapy dogs would be waiting for them. So we had sent about 40 dogs that were there on that first day. And it was just a line of dogs. And that got them to come finally, back to the school. So I think maybe a trauma, someone who’s been through some something that serious would get the most out of it. 

HR:  

That must have been very intense this Stoneman Douglas.

CT:  

It was very intense and our volunteers went for two straight years. Every day, they were with certain students, accompanying them from class to class. And our volunteers heard the stories and some of them started having nightmares. So now we prepare our volunteers for something like that with an additional mental health and trauma response class. 

HR:  

Wow. 

LR:

I would like to share how I mean, therapy dogs, I think they’re great for everybody. All different people love animals, they relate to animals, I think we all have a need to show love to feel love. And when you asked what groups, you know, work best with therapy dogs, I think lonely people are if I had to give one answer, that would be it. Because sometimes they don’t have an opportunity to connect with people with the same in the same moment. And with a dog, you can just let it all out, you know, they’re there, they’re happy to see you. And it can, it can be a really intensely and intimate experience for anyone. 

HR:  

So if we connect that to neurodiversity, and those of us whose brains are a little bit different, say I have autistic traits, and I have trouble socializing, then this would be great for me.

CT:  

Yes, the therapy dog actually acts as a bridge to help people communicate to calm people down. Any kind of situation, it’s helping with behavior in elementary schools. They’re even helping children read now, they will listen to the book at the child reads. But it they have proven that therapy dog can help. Not only physical health, like blood pressure coming down, cortisol levels, all of that. But they also help mentally change your mood change the way that you treat animals because you’ve had such a great interaction with a therapy dog. You think differently about dogs after that.

HR:

Talk a little bit about the difference between a therapy dog, such as Gracie, versus a service animal.

CT:  

There is quite a big difference. A service animal has been specifically trained to do a task for one individual. So seeing eye dog, a hearing dog mobility dog to help pick up keys if you drop them. And that service dog should never be pet. Unless the owner gives permission. Never ever pet a service dog because they’re actually working. Same with police dogs and bomb sniffing dogs. They’re all at work. And a therapy dog is the opposite. They are to be pet and they are to help multiple people, not just one.

HR:  

That’s their job.

LR:  

Best job ever, just to make people happy.

HR:  

Gracie looks like she’s working hard now. So how are therapy dogs trained? 

CT:  

Do you want to answer? 

LR:  

Sure. Well, I’m had hoped to be able to do this with Gracie since she was a puppy. So I got her at a young age. And we started our training, obedience and socialization right from the beginning. She naturally loves people and loves attention. So I didn’t have to train that. But you do need a lot of experience in taking a dog out into different environments and interacting with different people and situations. So that we can bring her here and she’s calm. She’s comfortable. It means exposure to traffic buses, elevators, walkers, wheelchairs, all different age groups. It’s it’s a lot. It’s a lot. It took a long time. She was a year and a half when she started. 

HR:  

Wow. She has a calming influence just by her very. 

CT:  

Yes, just look at her and smile. 

HR:  

It’s true. What makes a dog a good candidate to be a therapy dog?

CT:  

We always say therapy dogs are born, they’re not made. So Gracie was born with a great temperament, personality and a love for people and a lot of confidence. The therapy dogs that we have must like their job, we we want to make sure the dog is enjoying it just because the person wants to do it doesn’t mean it’s a good fit. So the dog has to enjoy it. They have to run up to strangers and be happy to be touched by strangers. Not all dogs like that.

HR:  

Can you elaborate on the actual types and breeds of dogs that you have? 

CT:  

Sure any dog can potentially be a therapy dog doesn’t matter their breed or their size. We’ve had little tiny four pound Chihuahua all the way up to 150 pound Leon burger, which was beautiful big mountain dog. And currently, I would say we have the majority of our dogs are either Golden Retrievers, Labrador Retrievers, or golden doodles Labradoodles that those dogs tend to have a temperament that lends itself to this kind of work.

HR:  

How do you recruit them? 

CT:  

We have made some partnerships with different dog trainers so that they can be on the lookout that they see a dog that they think has potential. They have our brochure and they can refer them to us if the owner is interested in doing pet therapy, a lot of it is just word of mouth has gotten around, because we don’t do any official recruiting. 

HR:  

Wow. And you’re able to keep a good inventory so to speak?

CT:  

We have 119 currently certified therapy dogs, and we know all their names.

HR:  

And you’re serving basically the three counties of South Florida. 

CT:  

Yes. 

HR:  

Well, God bless you. What made you both join this wonderful organization?

CT:  

I actually work there. So that’s my full time job. And I heard about a position open and what the cause was the mission of the organization. And I believe so strongly in it that I wanted to be a part of it. And I’ve been here 11 years now.

LR:  

You know, I always wanted to be able to do this kind of work. I love animals and I love sharing my best friend with people. But as a volunteer this community, and this group really has a lot of support for the volunteers and helps to connect us with all different areas in the community. We’ve had so many wonderful experiences. So I really liked the structure that they offer to help me facilitate taking Gracie out. 

HR:  

Can you give us some more examples ovoid Gracie does when she’s working? 

LR:  

Sometimes I tell people, when you’re sad, some other people will give you a hug. And some people will tell you a joke. Gracie is the therapy dog that tells you a joke. You know, she she just brings in happiness. And I also want to speak to a lack of judgment. You know, Gracie doesn’t care what somebody looks like. She doesn’t care how well they speak. If they speak to her at all. If they speak clearly. All she cares about communicating is that somebody’s touching her interacting with her and being positive. And that positivity can occur in any kind of situation. No matter how somebody interacts. I think we’re capable of feeling that positivity. I mentioned about going to hospitals and interacting with people. Courtney spoke about somebody’s mood completely changing. We’ve been told, “Wow I’m no longer in pain anymore.” People sometimes we walk into a room and not just do they smile, but they’re so overwhelmed that they cry just from us coming into the room. Many times when we’ve interacted in senior homes or in the hospital, which I think for anybody makes a situation even more difficult or scary, especially if it’s somebody with Alzheimer’s and maybe now doesn’t know where they are or what’s going on. But somehow they still love dogs. And when they can see Gracie or interact with Gracie, it could take them back to a good memory. A good moment just can completely change the dynamic of what’s going on. We’ve also had it help… We’ve I think every therapy dog team has heard some staff say, Wow, that person wasn’t talking before you came in. Or I can’t believe the difference from that day you visited because we’ve been doing this so long has she’s just happy hearing me talk about her. Because we’ve been doing this so long. Sometimes we go to the hospital and someone who’s like, I was hoping I’d see you again. You know, and and that’s really wonderful that that we can sort of change a moment. So completely. We’ve also had the opportunity to visit all different kinds of facilities and residential group homes, deal with people who were blind or deaf or children. And they may not be able to see her. But I recall interacting with a young toddler, and we put his hands on Gracie. And just seeing his face light up and the way his hands was able to work through her for her and feel her and have that experience. I think it just connects with people on a very basic level. And it’s a privilege to work with her and to work with our organization. It’s one of the best things in my life.

HR:  

Wonderful, wonderful. Why are animals such a great tool for therapy?

CT:  

Because they do not judge like humans judge. Humans can have a preconceived idea before they even talk to you. And a dog just loves everybody. Doesn’t matter any anything about them. They just love them. So they do not judge.

HR:  

Grace’s tail wagging would say she agrees. Would you have anything to add to that?

LR:  

I think that that’s really the the most important thing and you know, it’s no judgment. And the communication can just occur an exchange. It doesn’t have to be verbal. It can be in whatever medium that person wants to communicate. A dog and animal is ready to receive it.

HR:  

Well, it’s amazing that we humans can learn that, huh? They want to be judgment free. 

CT:  

Yes. *Gracie grunts*

HR:  

Thanks, Gracei. 

LR:  

You’re a good girl. 

HR:  

You’re welcome. What happens if at a facility that you’re serving, someone has an anxiety attack while meeting, Gracie?

LR:  

Well, that’s a great question. If they’re actually anxious about meeting a dog, you know what we’ll pull back and make sure that you know they’re okay. Gracie seems to be pretty good at intuitively understanding when somebody might be nervous about meeting her. And she tends to just lie down. And that actually helps. I never even taught her that, but she does it on her own. Other times, it if somebody is already anxious, you know, she’s very used to knowing to come right up to somebody in a chair in their hospital bed, and just kind of let them pet her. And usually the situation kind of unfolds, I’m there to guide her and make sure she’s close enough to the person if they can’t reach all the way over. And usually after a little bit, whatever was escalating, does de-escalate,

HR:  

Very cool, Courtney would you have anything to add to that?

CT:  

We had a child that was attending a hospice bereavement camp, because he’d lost a parent. And the therapist that were there could not get him to open up or participate in anything. At camp, he would go sit in a corner away from all the other children. And when it was time for him to sit with a counselor, he wouldn’t talk. Well, we brought in some therapy dogs. And he kept looking at them out of the corner of his eye. So the dog was brought over, would you like to pet the dog? And he said no, because he was a little anxious and not sure. And after a while, we saw his hand start to move closer and closer to the dog. And then he started petting the dog. In the look on his face completely changed. He been very stressed. very anxious, very upset. And the handler of the therapy dogs said I have to take moose out for a walk. Would you like to come with us? And he said yes. So it was the two of them with the dog walked out of the room and outside. And they sat down on a bench and he ended up whispering into the dog’s ear what he was feeling, but he didn’t want to say it out loud where humans could hear him, but it was okay to say it to the dog. And after a little while they went back inside and the dogs had to leave at that point. And later this therapist called In our office and said, I don’t know what you did or said to that child, but whatever it was, we can’t even get him to stop talking now. So they were thrilled that he finally opened up. And that’s why I think sometimes therapy dogs are like a bridge to get somebody over something to be able to open up.

HR:  

If somebody who’s watching or hearing this has a family member that they think would benefit from exposure to a therapy dog. What do they do? Do they contact canine assisted therapy? Is it available? Or how does that work?

CT:  

At the moment, we do not go into private homes. But we do visit any public facilities. So hospitals, nursing homes, wherever the people may be in those kinds of facilities. And we also have opened up our office to different people that needed to spend time with a therapy dog that were not in a facility. And they came to our office and we had some dogs there for them and they spend time so they would just need to contact us.

HR:  

If our audience wants to find out more, what’s the best way they can find out more about Canine Assisted Therapy?

CT:  

I would say to start the best place is to go to our website. And the address is www.catdogs.org.

HR:  

Well, Laura Rogers, Courtney Trzcinski, Gracie the wonder dog. You told us all about Canine Assisted Therapy and we thank you for being here. We hope you’ll come back. Keep up your great work. Thank you.

LR:  

Thank you so much.

CT:  

We intend to.

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