With her favourite toy in her mouth, Telly, the five-year old labrador, makes her way over slowly. Her soft, brown eyes blink gently as she drops her toy and looks at you expectantly – play with me, hooman? Seconds later, one-year old golden retriever Hope plops down beside her sister and places her paw on your lap – it’s okay hooman, you are safe now.
Meet Telly and Hope, the paw-some heroes at Pawsibility, an establishment that specialises in Animal Assisted Therapy (AAT). Founded in 2013, Pawsibility is the brainchild of Maureen Huang, who obtained her Master of Social Work and certificate in Animal Assisted Social Work from the University of Denver’s Graduate School.
“Animals are special, they bring joy to people around them,” smiles Maureen. “Not only do they change the perception of therapy, they help to relax and engage clients.” Offering both counselling and social emotional development programmes, Pawsibility works with both individuals and families, from schools to welfare organisations.
Maureen explains, “It’s about understanding the connection between how we think, behave and feel. Some common issues amongst people with depression include low-self esteem, where our role is to help them to identity any maladaptive thought patterns before changing them.”
As some may feel uncomfortable speaking to therapists or counsellors, this is when AAT comes into play. “Dogs do not judge ¬– they accept and love people for who they are.” Besides acceptance, dogs are able to relax and ease the client into opening up.
When recounting one of her more memorable sessions, Maureen recalls, “I had a 11 year-old client who was selectively mute. She refused to communicate with anyone except her parents. However, she loves hanging out with Telly and to communicate with Telly, she began giving one word commands. Eventually, we started going out for walks together and in order to introduce Telly, she started opening up to strangers.”
Having been in the business for more than four years, Telly is naturally good at what she does. Hailing all the way from Colorado, U.S, Maureen first met Telly while choosing her partner. “She was super friendly and was the first one to greet me amongst the pack. That’s when I knew she was the one.” Telly is short for Telluride, a name derived from the mountain where the duo used to hike.
Intelligent, athletic and engaging, Telly is, in Maureen’s words, an overachiever. With a sensitive nature, Telly is able to pick up on clients’ emotions quickly. “During our group sessions, Telly will always sit by the individual who’s feeling down, way before I can identity the emotions of said individual. This is probably why Hope has such big shoes to fill,” laughs Maureen.
Sitting by her favourite spot in the room by the window, Hope gazes over as she wags her tail in acknowledgement. In a blink of an eye, she leaps off the ledge to engage Telly in a game of tug-of-war before wrestling her sister. Cheeky, playful and three years younger, Hope is the newest co-counseller at Pawsibility. A very affectionate canine, Hope loves hugs and rubs. Maureen smiles, “She’s like a lap dog even though she really isn’t one. This is probably why Hope is so popular with teenage girls, who find her very cute and cuddly.”
“To change one’s perspective of thought, is to change one’s perspective of life,” explains Maureen. “When Hope first joined Pawsibility, I invited a client, who was suffering from depression, to help train Hope to run through a tunnel. The tunnel is pretty dark, but Hope managed to complete her task. This is when a learning point surfaces, where we tell the client, if Hope can overcome the darkness, so can you.”
Besides counselling services, Pawsibility also conducts social emotional learning sessions, to assist in emotional management and building of communication skills. Social emotional development is crucial to the healthy growth and functioning of children, and helps prepare young people for success in adulthood. Though their interaction with Telly and Hope, clients can learn and acquire social skills. A simple task such as training the canines to eat their treats on command can provide several learning points. “Notice that you take on a more assertive tone when you’re commanding Telly – it’s the same with people. When we want to make ourselves heard, we have to make a stand. But as with Telly, you don’t have to raise your voice for others to listen.” With their differing personalities, the doggos will, depending on the client’s needs, be tasked to work separately.
Being the sociable and confident canines that they are, both Telly and Hope love what they do. Whether it is improving one’s mental well-being or if you’re yearning for a non-judgmental listening ear, you know who to turn to. Also, if you happen to run into Telly and Hope at the park, do not be afraid to say hello and tell them who the good-est girls are.
For more information on Pawsibility, visit www.pawsibilityaat.com or reach the team at (65) 6225 7195.
The full article was originally published in the March 2018 issue of Clubpets.