“Children don’t process like adults do in therapy sessions; we observe their behaviors more through their artwork and how they play, now that Ellie Mae is here, we can also observe how they interact with her,” said Refuge Executive Director, Erin Bickle. “I’ve worked with therapy dogs before and have seen children tell them things they don’t feel comfortable telling adults, it’s our job to observe their behavior with the dog.”
Bickle says there’s a lot of research to support how having a therapy dog can help better the recovery process. There are countless ways that they can be useful in therapy, some of them are: helps lower blood pressure, lifts spirits and lessens depression, encourages communication, provides comfort, helps children overcome speech and emotional disorders, creates motivation for clients to recover faster and reduces loneliness.
They’re working with a certified therapy dog coach, Claire Clark with the K9 Assistance Program. The type of training is called, “Bond-Based Choice Teaching.” Once she’s completed all of the training, Ellie will work with the children one-on-one and their families.
“Anything you can teach a three-year-old, you can teach your dog, they’re super smart,” said Clark. “We want to build her confidence during these brain exercises, all their bad behaviors go away because they’re getting so much more positive attention and they become a well adjusted member of the family.”
“Our goal is to show the children all the wonderful things she’s learned once she’s certified, they’ll be shocked to see her know letters and colors,” said Bickle.
Refuge is a self-funded nonprofit located downtown Wood River inside the Riverbend Family Ministries office. They serve children and families in Madison County who’ve been exposed to childhood abuse. They help address and prevent childhood abuse and violence exposure with therapy and training.