Would you like to have an emotional support animal present during your individual therapy?

Rita traveling to Texas to provide emotional support to veterans and their families.

Rita traveling to Texas to provide emotional support to veterans and their families.

Over the course of the past year, I have worked as an independent contractor for an organization called the Lone Survivor Foundation. I am a mental health professional and I have worked as a behavioral consultant, EAGALA model team member, and Creative Arts facilitator for veterans, families, couples and military sexual trauma survivors. I have consistently appreciated the wide range of services offered by Lone Survivor and I feel endlessly grateful to remain a part of such an expert team.

This past summer while wrapping up a retreat in Utah, I sat next to a woman and her beautiful service dog on the way back to the airport. She was truly blown away by her experience at the retreat and wanted to share how much she felt that her service dog had a positive impact on both herself and the other individuals at the retreat. We spoke about how helpful it might be to have an animal attend future retreats to provide emotional support to participants.

I felt committed to this idea and grateful that our administration and team leads were supportive of piloting a retreat where an emotional support animal could join our team. My research was two-fold: I wanted to understand how to find the best fit for this kind of animal and I wanted to increase my education and understanding of what it means to have an “emotional support animal.” I learned, quite quickly, that many of the individuals we work with already have animals at home that could provide emotional support throughout their day-to-day activities but they were unfamiliar with the requirements for registering this animal so as to allow increased access to public places. I found a great deal of useful information at www.registermyserviceanimal.com.

After obtaining so much information, I only needed to find the right dog. With a bit of research I found a “model shelter” that seeks not only to find homes for abandoned dogs but to “go beyond that to give as many dogs as possible functional roles that benefit the dogs, their owners and the community.” This shelter had built a number of unique and successful programs partnering shelter dogs with veterans who needed assistance, children with emotional disturbances, incarcerated individuals who became dog trainers, and community members at schools, hospitals and other sites that welcome therapy dogs.

I took home Rita on December 6th, 2016. She had just been a part of a six-week program with children with emotional disturbances who were helping her to develop basic social skills. Since that day, Rita has been wonderfully kind, supportive, obedient and affectionate. I knew that she would settle in with the extraordinary team of staff and independent contractors at Lone Survivor and hoped that she could simultaneously become a part of my work in private practice.

As Rita settles into her role, I wanted to make sure to welcome a dialogue with each individual that enters into my private practice. My hope is that working with Rita can be a completely optional aspect of your treatment. If you would prefer to remain at arms length, we will make sure that Rita respects your personal space or remains outside of our sessions. If you would like to take her on a walk or bring her into a session, I want to make sure to take this opportunity to let you know that she can be available to you as we begin to work together. You might even hear her bark “hello” when you come over to the art studio.

Thank you for taking the time to learn more about Rita. We can’t wait to meet you!