Kids and animals, it’s magical. Although some researchers have tried to figure out why, exactly, really - who cares? Many a little kid, or even older kid, who refuses to talk to grown ups will happily spend time with an animal. Some find courage through the presence of one.
I remember a little boy who was sent to us from a distant hospital. They’d told us he was “the sickest kid they had ever seen” and that he “refused to talk to anyone.” Indeed, he was curled up into a ball in the exam room and refused to look at me or respond to questions. I asked to have our (then) therapy dog Cleo brought in: a large black standard poodle, herself a bit aloof. His small hand shot out and Cleo drew near. He sat up. The dog sat by him and leaned on him. Fifteen minutes later he spoke to us. We had gained his confidence forever. Yes, he was pretty sick, but last year he graduated from Stanford.
We lost Cleo a few years ago. She eventually became too crotchety for therapy work, and we have never been able to replace her. Until now. Kartini Clinic has been fortunate this year in securing the collaboration of a new colleague who does animal assisted therapy in our program, Lisa Peacock. And yes, that’s her real name.
Lisa will be implementing groups focused on life skills using various animals that have been trained specifically to work with people. She has had 5 years of experience working at The Phoenix Zoo and The Los Angeles Zoo education departments which led her to get her Master of Education in counseling focusing on animal assisted interventions. She has been partnering with animals in her work for the past 14 years.
Lisa has been working directly with the clinical staff at Kartini Clinic to develop a program that adds to the curriculum already in place, focusing on life skills including communication skills, relationship skills, and conflict resolution skills using animal interventions as the means for discussion and learning. She says: “The animals will not only be used for physical touch, but integrated into the discussion and used to represent skills that are being taught.” Many of the animals are caged, and then brought out for contact, allowing the group to process the concepts being taught, focusing on treatment while being present with an animal. The goal is not just to cuddle a cute pet, but to learn through contact with these animals.
Our kids are lucky, wouldn’t you say?