Updated: Jun 28, 2019
I'm not sure exactly where to start. Even though I am in my early thirties, I feel like I have a lifetime of stories to share, lessons I have learned, and challenges I have overcome. Wags for Wellness started as an idea that dogs and humans can be therapeutic for each other. In order to explain how this idea came to be, I should probably begin talking about my first experiences with the population.
While I was in graduate school, I began working for a non profit organization called Thresholds in down town Chicago. I was a Community Support Specialist working with the veterans outreach program. My job was to help homeless veterans connect with services in the community to help with housing, food and clothing. I also helped with making appointments with the VA, and linking to mental health services. I was also tasked with trying to find and/or develop resources for women veterans, as the population tends to face very specific challenges that male veterans often do not. I was able to attend multiple trainings and meet some amazing people working within the community to assist veterans in living a better life and getting the services they deserved.
I stumbled upon VALOR, which is a program that Thresholds had just piloted with the Veterans Project. VALOR stands for Veterans Advancing the Lives Of Rescues. More information on the program can be found here: https://www.safehumanechicago.org/programs/valor-(veterans-advancing-lives-of-rescues)
VALOR was partnering veterans with court case dogs. These were dogs that were removed from homes where there was illegal activity, such as dog fighting taking place. These dogs had some behavioral problems that made them less likely to be adopted, and more likely to be euthanized. Veterans that were clients of Thresholds were given the opportunity to volunteer to participate in an 8 week obedience course with these dogs. The benefit of this program was two fold: The Veterans gained practical skills and mental health coping skills, and the dogs were able to gain appropriate behaviors to be more easily adopted. The veterans were also given an opportunity to attend the next level obedience training with their dog and even adopt the dog if they were able to.
After moving to the Quad Cities, I began working with The Robert Young Center. First I started as a Crisis Clinician, and then a year later I began doing therapy with a variety of populations. I've worked with children, teenagers, adults, veterans, probationees, parolees, sex offenders, and inmates. Many times I noticed that my clients would identify as a pet being an effective coping mechanism for depression, anxiety and PTSD. I have also attended conferences and trainings that talked about utilizing animals as a therapeutic aide and the benefits. There have also been studies utilizing inmates in prisons to provide training to dogs with behavioral issues. A popular TV show "Pitbulls and Parolees" follows a local dog rescue in New Orleans that employs parolees to help take care of and train their rescue dogs. Clearly this is beneficial for multiple populations!
I began trying to research similar programs to VALOR in the Quad Cities. I was unsuccessful. It was in a meeting with my supervisor that I mentioned this idea and thought that this might be a possibility. I also met with a colleague that is very knowledgeable in grant writing to see how one would begin to develop this program. It was a go from both individuals. Now the challenge lies in finding interested shelters and trainers, as well as trying to get it funded.
My plan for this blog is to create new updates as the program gets developed, and eventually, I hope for this site to be a resource for individuals to use if they are interested in participating in or helping with the program. Stay tuned for more updates!