K-9 Therapy by Cylvia Hayes

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My dog doesn’t wear a special official-looking vest.  She hasn’t been trained or certified for any special abilities.  She’s not welcome in grocery stores or hospitals.  But, she is most definitely a service dog, providing me with a continuous flow of mental health therapy.

Tessa and I have shared our lives for seven years.  She has been with me through success and failure, happy times and despair.  Her constant, unflagging, tail-wagging love has lifted me through some very painful times, especially over this past year.

Her therapeutic practices include: 

  • Diversion Techniques

When I am stressed and obsessed with some problem, my mind racing off in the distance, Tessa will take action.   Sometimes she gently rubs her face against me.  Sometimes she crawls up onto the couch beside me.  Sometimes she flips her food bowl over with a loud metallic clang and I watch the kibbles explode across the kitchen floor.  Sometimes she gets fussy and whiney, going to the door asking to be let out even though she has a pet door.  It might annoy me a little bit but it brings me back to the present. 

  • Leading by Example

Like most well-loved, well-treated dogs, Tessa fully immerses herself in the moment.  She sniffs all manner of things with nose buried deep, pulling in full, fascinating clouds of scent.  She rips around with other dogs with no care at all who’s watching or when the next deadline is.  She naps in the sun in the middle of the sidewalk or on the chaise lounge in my backyard, the full length of her 100-pound body totally relaxed soaking up the warm rays.  She listens, with full focus, for the scrabble of “Rocky Raccoon” on the back deck.

By example, she reminds me to use my senses, to take time to fully focus on what’s before me, to see rare beauty in a simple moss and drool covered stick.  To be present.  To be. 

  • Cat Salvation Exercises

When depression or emotional exhaustion overwhelms me I flatten out on the couch and anesthetize myself binge-watching Game of Thrones or Heartland or cheesy Hallmark movies.  Patient, loving Tessa snuggles on the couch with me for hours, even a full day or so.  Then, when she figures it’s gone on long enough, she gets up and flings her huge, but graceful long body into the air in an impish pounce landing just inches from the highly annoyed, hissing cat.  If I remain prone she then seeks out the other cat, nosing it, pushing it off the chair where it is napping.  This is when I know I need to get my butt off the couch and take her for a run.  She deserves some exercise and the cats deserve a little peace.  It’s enough to get me to shake off the funk and start moving forward again.

  • Acceptance Immersion Practices

No matter what I have done, no matter what’s been done to me, no matter what people are saying about me, Tessa thinks I am terrific.  On the day of my greatest achievement and the day of my most catastrophic failure she greets me with exactly the same joyous, smiling, gyrating affection.  When I question my own worth she assures me I am the most valuable person on Earth.

Her services and her friendship are priceless.

Cylvia Hayes 


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