Animal Assisted Therapy Dogs

The interpreting profession will never cease to amaze me. I have found very enriching experiences throughout my career as a professional conference and court certified interpreter, but never anything as marvelous as what I’m about to narrate. One of the government agencies court interpreters are usually assigned to work is Child Protective Services (CPS), and sometimes these type of cases create a little anxiety in all parties involved. As court interpreters we are told to learn how to block any type of emphatic feeling towards clients, and we can’t actually have conversations with clients or their children. Many times clients in CPS or DFS settings feel they have an ally in interpreters because we speak their same language and feel they can relay information to us. However, interpreters must not engage in conversation, especially when it involves situations of child abuse and neglect. This creates some disappointment on the part of the clients —they feel they are alone and get frustrated because nobody understands what they are trying to say. I’ve witnessed how this anxiety and frustration —and even my always present fear of performance— disappear with the help of a therapy dog.

Picture courtesy of Sue Grundfest, Certified Dog Trainer
Picture courtesy of Sue Grundfest, Certified Dog Trainer

Being an avid fan of pets, especially dogs and cats, I almost never resist the temptation to pet dogs wherever I see them. I love to hug them and scratch their ears, but I’ve also been scorned by handlers of service dogs —a person is not supposed to pet them when they are working. So, now every time I see a doggy, I always ask the handler or owner if I’m allowed to approach the animal. It was different this time around. I was sitting in the lobby of the place I was assigned to interpret, waiting to be called by the interviewer, and I see a lady coming in with a beautiful creamy poodle named Benny. She says hello to everyone, takes a seat on one of the couches, and introduces Benny to all of us. The dog was quiet, very calm, and incredibly cute! The handler asks the kids if they want to pet or lift Benny up. There was a silence —only looks directed to the parents waiting for their approval. The kids hugged the dog and scratched its head. Benny is trained not to kiss on the face, but on the hands. It was the most empowering scene I’ve ever seen. After a few minutes, the lady asked me directly if I would like to lift Benny. I was astounded. I immediately replied I would like to, with a smile from ear to ear. She stood up, walked towards me and handed me the doggy. Benny sat on my lap for five minutes. It was a very nice, unforgettable experience.

These very cute animals are trained to be around people all the time, do not exhibit any type of anxiety, and have a very gentle disposition and friendliness towards strangers. Their job is to comfort people, especially children, through physical contact during stressful situations. In a CPS setting, for instance, the doggy and its handler sit close to children and their parents. The handler encourages physical contact with the dog by petting, lifting or hugging it. Adults usually only like petting the animal and let their kids to fully enjoy the experience. In the end, these children forget why they were taken to this place. Benny did an excellent job. He not only helped to ease the anxiety of the children, but also that of the interpreter!

1 comment

  1. HI,

    I just caught this article and want to thank you for understanding what our presence in this type of setting is all about. Both of my dogs, Petey and Benny, and others on our team, Love Dog Adventures, work in this environment weekly and truly en joy their “job.” And we believe we are there for everyone,. not just the children, as you say, because anyone who enters the doors feel some anxiety just being there.
    I remember our encounter and thank you for loving on my Benny!
    Sue, Love Dog Adventures Animal Therapy Program, A Pet Partner Affiliate

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