Paulette and Teebo visit people struggling with substance abuse, offering love, support, and comfort as they fight to conquer addiction.
|Teebo, Paulette's beautiful Keeshond is a great therapy dog!|
Paulette and I met for our interview at a café. Over cups of tea we talked for nearly two hours. Before I get started on the interview, let me clarify something right off the bat: Teebo wasn't named after the football player, he's named after the Star Wars Ewok! This is a common question Paulette gets about Teebo. Now that we've cleared that up, let's get to the interview!
|Paulette poses with Teebo (right) and my Siberian Husky, Icy at one of our library visits.|
During socialization and training, I noticed that Teebo loved everyone. He didn't mind it when kids or other people crowded around him, he was so comfortable and so good with people. When our PetSmart trainer Connie talked about doing a therapy dog class and asked if anyone was interested I thought "We can do that!" and signed up for the class.
CATHY: How did you find out about working with recovering substance abusers?
One of the other dog trainers was also a student, studying to be a social worker or counselor of some kind. She had been doing an internship at a drug and alcohol recovery facility. She thought therapy dogs would be great for the residents there and asked if Teebo and I might be interested. I agreed to meet with her boss who managed the facility. Initially, I met with him by myself, without Teebo.
I didn't know what to expect, I had never been to a facility like that. As I walked around with him, he explained what they do there and how residents go through the recovery process. I didn't interact with any of the residents, who live at the facility during their recovery, we just toured the facility. Afterwards he asked "Do you think you can do this?" I said yes, I definitely could but I would have to see if Teebo would be ok with it.
They didn't have a therapy dog program at the facility, we would be the first therapy dog team to visit. During our first visit, a Counselor was present to monitor the reactions of the patients and the team. It went great and we've been visiting ever since!
CATHY: How is working as a therapy dog team with recovering substance abusers different than when you and Teebo work together in other programs, like the kids Reading program at the library?
It's a very different scenario. When we arrive, we need to be let in and let out of each locked area of the facility. When residents first arrive they are in detox for several days before moving on to other stages of rehab.
Teebo doesn't have to stay in one place and sit still like he does at the library. We can proactively move through the facility visiting people. Residents may be sleeping in their rooms, in common areas, or in small groups around the facility. Teebo instinctively knows who to approach and who not to approach!
Another big difference is that there is a drug sniffing German Shepherd named Draco. He shows up at random times during the day or night to ensure no drugs are present where they shouldn't be. He's a working dog so no one is permitted to touch or interact with him. The residents often ask if it's ok to touch Teebo. We always know when Draco has been there because Teebo becomes fixated on following Draco's scent from room to room!
|Handsome Teebo poses for the camera|
One of the most difficult things is when they talk about their abuse, it can be pretty unsettling.
Sometimes it's difficult because we often don't see the same people more than once or twice, it's new people all the time. We only visit twice a month and the residents don't always complete their full recovery. Although some residents will stay for a full 30 days, some will leave after their 5 day Detox period. Others may have to leave early because their insurance won't cover any more time at the facility.
CATHY: Is there a particular visit or story that sticks out in your mind that you can share with us?
One of the residents asked me "Why are you doing this for us, we're addicts!?" as though she felt they were not deserving of it. Some of them seem to be so lost, and say they don't feel valuable to society.
A couple of the residents have said "Thank you so much for coming, it means so much to us." when all we did was walk around and say hello! It's interesting to see some of them be so grateful that you care. It's very rewarding when you can make them smile and provide a positive interaction in their day. It's always nice when they can have a conversation with you about something other than why they are at the facility.
I try to be encouraging by saying things like "Look what you're doing for yourself by being here!" I've shared the FAIL acronym with a few of the residents. I tell them "FAIL is merely your First Attempt In Learning".
CATHY: What advice would you give to other animal therapy handlers who want to help make a difference by working with recovering substance abusers?
Be flexible, it's different every time we visit and you can't have expectations of how you think it should be. Most importantly, Don't Judge! You haven't walked in their shoes.
Be in tune with your dog to see how he or she is handling it. There was one day where we had to cut our visit short. For some reason, Teebo just didn't want to interact with anyone that day. I'm not sure why, but I had to take him home after only a brief visit.
When you meet a patient, let them start talking first. Often they'll say they miss their own dog and start asking questions about Teebo like what kind of dog he is and what training we needed to do to become a therapy dog team. When they talk about missing their own dogs I'll say "Don't worry, your dog will be waiting for you when you get home!"
CATHY: Paulette, thanks so much for sharing about the visits you and Teebo make to the rehab facility. I really admire how you two are helping people as they struggle to recover from drug and alcohol addiction by offering comfort, love, and support!
I hope you enjoyed reading this interview as much as I enjoyed conducting it. A big THANK YOU to Paulette and Teebo for giving us a glimpse into their therapy dog visits to the rehab facility.
"They say I gotta go to Rehab, I say NO, NO, NO!!"
- From the song "Rehab", by British singer-song writer Amy Winehouse who died tragically of alcohol intoxication in 2011 at age 27
If you enjoyed this interview, read about Paulette and my very first therapy dog encounter at a local mall. Icy and Teebo were still in therapy dog training, but managed to give hope to a grieving young lady.
I think it's a great idea for therapy dogs to visit recovering substance abusers in rehab. Who knows, perhaps having a dog like Teebo visiting them could potentially save someone's life one day. Unconditional love, comfort, support, and the Power Of The Paw just might get them through their darkest moments of recovery.
What do you think about therapy dogs visiting rehab facilities? Please, leave us a comment and share your thoughts. We always love reading your comments!