‘Pawed’ by Happy, Lady & Lucy, the clever Cavaliers of Happy Lady Productions.
‘Dogs Are… Just Like You! is a new children’s picture book created for Gabriel’s Angels pet therapy program and is available for sale through the charity’s website. It’s official launch takes place on May 3rd at Gabriel’s Angels ‘Unleash the Love‘ breakfast.
We’re dogs. Yup. Let’s get that clear from the beginning. So, when we talk about dogs, we know about which we speak. We’ve got the inside poop, so to speak. But, as clever as we are, we’re barking here to tell you that even we don’t know why we – and other animals – have such a positive connection with and effect on children. All we know are the great results we hear about every day around the world.
Pets go with children like cookies and milk. They’re so great together! When we think of children, we think of comfort and love and everything that is good and true in this world. Many of us dogs love having children pet, hug and kiss us. There is a connection between kids and us that is palatable, if not specifically identifiable (yet).
Today, animals from dogs to horses to bunnies are helping and healing children (and adults) in hundreds of ways from breaking the freeze of autism, easing attention deficit hyperactivity disorder, relaxing and distracting hospital patients from their afflictions, to acting as guides through every day life and alerting others if a medical crisis is about to happen or has already occurred. And it doesn’t stop there.
A growing number of psychotherapists are using therapy animals to facilitate treatment, especially treatment of children with emotional, social and even physical problems.
Among the pioneers is Aubrey H. Fine, psychotherapist and professor at the California State Polytechnic University in Pomona, whose extensive successful use of therapy animals in treating children is documented in “The Handbook on Animal Assisted Therapy” (Elsevier/Academic Press, 2010).
As Dr. Fine describes one of his first and most inspiring cases, 5-year-old Diane was brought to him because she recoiled in fright from strangers, and though she spoke at home, she refused to speak to anyone else, including her kindergarten teacher.
A trained therapy dog named Puppy eventually broke the back of her selective mutism. Diane was petting Puppy, smiling and content, when Dr. Fine gave the dog a signal to walk away. Diane was crestfallen, and seeing the girl’s distress, Dr. Fine told her that all she had to do to get the dog back was to say, “Puppy, come.” Softly, the child said, “Puppy, come, please come, Puppy.” That incident became the bridge Dr. Fine needed to help the child overcome her socially disabling problem. … In early work in a social skills program for hyperactive children, Dr. Fine found that they could be more easily taught how to behave calmly if allowed to handle his pet gerbil. “I realized this approach can have a tremendous impact in teaching because it helps to change how we relate to other beings,” he said. 
Because animal-assisted therapy is relatively new, there isn’t a whole lot of research on it, yet, but what there is, is already very convincing:
- The presence of animals and petting animals lowers blood pressure and heart rates (Friedmann, Katcher, Thomas, Lynch, & Messent, 1983)
- Children are calmer when an animal is present during a physical exam: “significant decreases in systolic blood pressure, mean arterial pressure, and heart rate occurred when the companion animal was present during the examination” (Nagengast, Baun, Megel, & Liebowitz, 1997, p. 328)
- Animals are a positive presence for children during stress or trauma: with only five minutes of contact with an unfamiliar dog, 76% of children studied believed that a dog knew how they felt; 84% would confide their secrets to a dog (Melson & Fogel, 1996)
- Children who have been abused suffer from insecure attachment. “This manifests as distrust of adults, and can impact the effectiveness of therapy (Parish-Plass, 2008). In cases of severe abuse, children’s ability to empathize with others is often impaired, and this can result in a child not appreciating that he or she is causing harm to another. Numerous studies have shown that these children have a higher probability of becoming maltreating parents (Parish-Plass, 2008). Therefore, therapy is needed in order to stop the cycle of violence — and in light of many of these children’s distrust of adults, incorporating therapy animals into children’s therapy can facilitate the road to recovery (Fine, 2004).”
- “Experience with an empathetic therapist (working on the emotional and cognitive components of the client’s internal working models) together with interactions with animals (a behavioral component allowing the client to implement and practice the changing of mental representations) may lead to inner change of strategies that will prevent the continuation of the cycle of abuse.”
Seeing us dogs with children, and seeing pet therapy dogs in action, is why Emily, our author mom, wrote Dogs Are… Just Like You! and donated it to pet therapy organization, Gabriel’s Angels. She wasn’t trying to anthropomorphize with the title – she used the phrase and developed the story to help children, who haven’t established emotional bonds with others, develop empathy.
Empathy (along with trust, self-esteem, compassion, respect, self-regulation and tolerance) is a core mission of Gabriel’s Angels’ pet-therapy program. Why is it so important? Having empathy for animals is a big part of teaching children to be loving, caring, successful adults who eschew violence against all creatures. As The Empathy Connection explains, empathy makes children better learners, as well as:
- More resilient, able to handle stress better, more confident, and better able to make use of social support and find coping strategies
- More socially competent and more popular with their peers
- More likely to be perceived as leaders
- Less likely to be overly aggressive
- Have better spatial ability
- Have self-awareness
- Understand better right from wrong and acting on that understanding
- More prosocial – behavior that has a positive social consequence; and
- Better able to manage emotions and delay gratification. “A twelve-year old boy who decides to walk his dog and miss the first part of his favorite television show displays both attributes. He understands that his dog, who has been alone in the house for eight hours, craves companionship and stimulation. In accepting his dog’s desire for a walk, he is able to postpone his immediate needs. By walking the dog instead of watching television, this boy has developed his emotional intelligence and his capacity for empathy.”
So, while we don’t know the ‘why’ of how we dogs are helpful in establishing empathy in children, we know we are helping with the support of trained therapy animals and human therapists. Gabriel’s Angels, alone, helps over 13,000 at-risk children every year and with their new book, Dogs Are… Just Like You!, in hand as part of their therapy curriculum, they will have a new way to reach these troubled children fulfill their promise by giving them the right tools to succeed in life.
What are we pups – Happy, Lady and Lucy – doing? We’re simply barking to spread the word and hope you will share this post and buy Gabriel’s Angel’s new book, Dogs Are… Just Like You! All the profits go back into the charity – which means more children will be helped. It’s a win-win, and you will be playing a big part in assisting the charity achieve their admirable goals. It’s like giving cookies and milk, only oh, so much better.
Husband-and-wife creative team, photographer Dan Merchant and author Emily Randolph, run Happy Lady Productions, a philanthropic book publisher supporting animal rescue and pet therapy programs. Book titles include: It’s a King’s Life series, ‘Some Days You’re the Dog… Some Days, the Hydrant!’, ‘Dogs Are… Just Like You!’ – a book specially produced for Gabriel’s Angels, and ‘Limericks by The Brothers Randolph’. Upcoming 2013 releases include: ‘It’s a King’s Life in Aspen; and ‘Handfeeding Handbook: 5 Easy Steps to a Well-Trained, Happy Dog.’