Calm your nerves: PAT dog to the rescue

So recently I’ve been working with a person who’s a little anxious, a bit like I was all those years ago when I was abandoned at a roadside in the snow. They have had a rocky ride in life and it’s not surprising they were debilitated by anxiety by the time me and my housemate met them. In a nutshell they’d mentioned how through various life events they’d lost all confidence in going out in public and were getting to the point where they felt prisoner at the centre we work due to no longer daring to go out.

On leaving the building they’d experience severe panic and it had got to the point where they could not find a good enough reason to go out anymore, it was easier to avoid the anxiety and stay in. My housemate, being an occupational therapist spent time talking to them about their hopes and dreams and it turns out their main wish was to visit a local park. Rather than her bombard them with anymore questions interview style, the following week when we all met again she made the wise move of supporting us to visit a lovely park together as a 3 which meant I could lap up the smells and flirt with lady dogs whilst my housemate continued to talk to this person about the things they were struggling with and formulate ways to help them overcome difficulties and meet their goals.

This is the point I realised she’d not only be lost in her own life without me, but that in her working life she’d be pretty stuffed too. I was shocked to hear her refer to me as ‘the dog’ but it was a Friday and we were both pretty rough looking by this point in the week if I’m honest.

So the following plan was agreed (she didn’t ask my consent but I was happy to comply). For the next 6 weeks, we would meet weekly as a 3 for the person to gradually regain independence in accessing the local community to participate in occupations that were important to them. They love walking. They love pets. But this was the best bit – they love going out for coffee and BACON sandwiches for breakfast.

My housemate through around some lingo about a graded plan and it turns out as the weeks progressed I actually had to walk further and further to earn my titbit of bacon mid session. So week one we walked to the nearest cafe (10 minutes – which is plenty after a long working week). But by week 6 we walked 30 minutes as their confidence improved in leaving their comfort zone. The smells in the park we had to walk through were divine and it was a nice escape from the city so I’m not complaining – particularly as the bacon was cooked to perfection this time.

It was nice to hear from the person I’ve been working with they look forward to our outings together, they feel more relaxed when I’m around, and they feel motivated to walk further each time because they know I enjoy it. I kept quiet about preferring my 4 poster basket in front of the fire and acted like an athlete trotting along by their side. When we stopped to rest I’d lean on them just to remind them I was there and everything was ok. They stroked me and complimented me on what a good lad I was which I obviously already know but hey it’s nice to hear.

Unfortunately for me my work with this person will be reducing now but I feel accomplished in knowing that in a difficult time I could be there, be walked, be stroked, be fed bacon…. oh and be making a difference to some one struggling with anxiety. I wish them all the best as they continue their recovery and start going out without me by their side – at least during these cold weeks they’ll be able to eat breakfast inside a cafe where us 4 legged folk aren’t welcome.

Jed (Pets As Therapy Dog and Rebecca Wint’s housemate)

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