This blog post is written by Erin Hall, our executive director. Happiness is a warm puppy. ~Charles M. Schulz
Add in a child and Mr. Schulz had it right. I love watching that special bond develop between children and animals –dogs in particular. Dogs just seem to sense what kids need.
We were recently approached by Phyllis Beasley, a dog trainer and owner with Pet Partners, about bringing her Sheltie, Gideon, to work with our kids.
I have to admit I was hesitant at first, maybe a little over protective of our kids. What if they were scared of dogs? What if the dog was scared of some very active kids? What if … ?
And then I met Phyllis. She told me all about Gideon and his gift with children. Gideon had worked with various other groups, from nursing homes to hospitals, but Phyllis thought Gideon just hadn’t found the perfect place yet and maybe Palmetto Place was that place.
She was right.
Gideon is currently working with three of our kids – a 12-year-old girl whose mother passed away and she doesn’t have other family who can take care of her; and a sibling group (ages 5 and 6) from a difficult home situation.
Our social worker, Jill, and I have been completely amazed at what Gideon is capable of and what he brings out in our kids.
Our 12-year-old is quiet, reserved, sometimes painfully shy, hanging back from the group when there are activities. She craves one-on-one time with those who care for her. Her first session with Gideon was a little quiet as the two got to know each other. Phyllis gave her Gideon’s brush and soon she was quite content brushing Gideon. By the end of the first session, she was talking to Gideon and asking questions about him. Phyllis suggested that she research Shelties online and gave her a book about Shelties.
Her second session was a transformation. Our quiet 12-year-old couldn’t wait to see Gideon. Her eyes lit up when she saw Phyllis, who had brought a second leash so our sweet girl could help walk Gideon back to the counseling space. This time, she talked to Gideon the entire session – she’d found a new best friend. Gideon was very happy to be brushed and to listen. He kissed her face and snuggled up against her.
The most telling part of the session was when, out of nowhere, she said, “Dogs keep people’s secrets.” That struck me so deeply – this sweet child knows she can talk to Gideon and he will listen and respond with his beautiful eyes and wagging tail.
No one appreciates the very special genius of your conversation as the dog does. ~Christopher Morley
Our siblings had a different experience and Gideon knew just what they needed. These two have no experience with dogs, no idea how to love a dog, how to pet a dog, how to talk to a dog. So the first session was hard to plan for – two kids who were hesitant around Gideon and not as interested in Gideon as maybe he was in them.
But then the next day, both kids asked about Gideon, wondering when he was coming back to see them.
When our 5-year-old saw that Gideon had returned, he immediately told us how much he had missed Gideon and couldn’t wait to see him. Back to the counseling space we went, with these two kids chatting away. Phyllis and I learned a lot about the kids as they talked to Gideon, asked questions about him and brushed him. The kids started to open up with all of us, as well. Phyllis read a book to the kids about a Sheltie and both kids became completely focused and quiet (an unexpected quiet from our 5-year-old!). The 6-year-old lay down on the blanket with Gideon and rested her head on his belly, while he licked her smiling face. A beautiful moment.
Our dog therapy program will continue to grow and we hope we can expand it to include more kids later this year. I learned a lot about our three kids but I also learned a lot about dogs. Gideon has the innate sense to know that one kid needs snuggling and another needs face licks and another needs to know he’s listening intently.
His mom, Phyllis, has a special talent for bringing kids and dogs together and we are better for having met her.
I think dogs are the most amazing creatures; they give unconditional love. For me they are the role model for being alive. ~Gilda Radner