Mary Dell Harrington, mother to two kids and two dogs, is co-author of Grown and Flown, where she writes about parenting kids between the ages of 15 and 25. She is also a certified animal therapist in the New York City-metro area with her dog, Moose. Find her on Twitter, Facebook or Pinterest.
I had some doubts about Moose, my chocolate Lab, when I first had the idea of signing us up to become an animal therapy team. Though he was a good dog, with a good heart, I found it impossible to envision him as any other pet than the jumping, barking, crotch-sniffing pup he was at age two.
At each weekly visit, I marvel at Moose’s gentle attentiveness to our patients, who are adults suffering from schizophrenia and other serious mental illnesses. He stands calmly at a patient’s side, letting him stroke his fur, scratch him behind the ears or reach around his chest for a hug. Meanwhile, as a bystander, I am never surprised to feel a familiar lump in my throat grow while I watch the magic of his brand of therapy.
What qualities makes Moose (and other therapy animals) a wonderful partner? He does not discriminate in his friendliness but likes humans of all races, ages and genders. His Pet Partners trainer referred to him as “bomb-proof,” which means he is not startled by the unfamiliar. He adores attention, and soaks it up from family members or strangers alike. Moose makes eye contact and holds it for several seconds before looking away. When he gazes into my eyes I believe we are, in that moment, sharing in a feel-good loop of happiness. Likewise, when he looks up at our patients, I hope that they, too, are having their own “Moose moment,” where happiness is both given and received.
National Therapy Animal Day is May 18, which also marks our six-year anniversary of volunteering. Moose turns nine this summer and my birthday wish for him is for many more years together as my Pet Partners partner.
At ASPCA Parents, our goal is to help families raise the next generation of animal lovers. So when we heard about the Benedetto family, who spent Christmas assisting in the aftermath of a massive tri-state dog fighting ring, we couldn’t wait to share their story. We tracked down this inspiring family to find out just what motivated them to spend their holidays with the ASPCA.
Elizabeth and Juan Carlos Benedetto live in Seattle, Washington with their two children, Gabriel and Tatiana. Elizabeth and Juan run two adult living facilities, and both kids are in medical school. Despite their busy lives, they’ve always made it a priority to do good, and to do it together. When they heard about an opportunity to help dog fighting victims, they all agreed to head to our temporary shelter right away.
“We have a love of animals deep in our heart,” says Elizabeth. “It’s really important for us to help out animals in need, but also to stick together as a family.”
The Benedettos are trained in Search & Rescue. In the last year alone, they deployed four times through WASART (Washington State Animal Response Team) to rescue dogs and horses. Though she says she hasn’t had a real vacation in more than 20 years, Elizabeth considers this time with her family to be the greatest reward of all.
“We want to show the kids how important it is to be a part of the need that’s out there and to be a part of the community,” she says. “If your kids are old enough to do these things, they should do them. The more you expose your kids to good, the better our world will be.”