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K-9 to 5: Trained therapy dogs have a ‘power of presence’


Working in grief therapy, Anubis approaches each client with a positive attitude. His very presence fosters a sense of acceptance and well-being. He also wags his tail — a lot — and nudges hands for an ear scratch.

A 1-year-old Labrador retriever-Great Pyrenees mix, Anibus works at Cremation Advocates by Putnam, where he brings comfort to clients of the Marble Falls funeral home.

“When people come in, they see him and immediately say, ‘Oh, look at the puppy,’” said Brittany Carrington, Anubis’ owner, handler, and partner. “He’s a barrier breaker.”

When someone steps into the funeral home’s office, it’s usually because of a death. Even if a person pre-planned services, surviving family members often struggle with funeral arrangements. The grief is real and can be hard to work through, Carrington said.

Anubis is there to help them.

Dogs in general seem to sense a person’s emotional state. A trained grief therapy dog can help when a person feels overwhelmed by many circumstances, not just grief. Mabel, a Labrador retriever and qualified courthouse dog, joined the Phoenix Center of Marble Falls staff in October 2015. She accompanies children to court when they have to testify. She also provides canine-assisted therapy to all the center’s clients, predominantly young people.

“Many of the children we serve have significant trauma symptoms,” said Sarah Garrett, the Phoenix Center’s executive director. “With Mabel, we watch children become calmer and regulated as they overcome obstacles and heal through canine-assisted therapy.”

One woman, whose grandson visits the Phoenix Center for therapy, credited Mabel’s presence.

“They are really helping my grandson out a lot,” she said. “He looks forward to coming, and everyone is so helpful and friendly. Mabel is the best part of his therapy.”

Using support dogs for therapy has proven successful across the board, according to scientific research. Most people of all ages — children, in particular — react positively to a dog, whether or not the animal is trained in therapy. Dogs are nonjudgemental and accepting, providing a sense of calm and comfort.

Carrington plans to expand Anibus’s job description to share his services with the community. Something under consideration is taking him into schools as a reading buddy for kids.

This is especially beneficial for struggling readers, who might feel self-conscious reading to adults or their peers. With a dog, they feel safe and secure. It’s the same phenomenon that occurs with grieving families.

“He doesn’t say anything; he’s just there,” Carrington said. “Anubis has taught me the power of presence. You don’t always have to say anything, but just be there for them.”

This story belongs to a series The Picayune Magazine recently did on working dogs of the Highland Lakes. Read about another working canine here. Sign up for The Daily newsletter, emailed five days a week, under the red “Sign Up For Our Newsletter” bar on the right-hand side of the page.

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