A Therapist and Her Dog – A Love Story

by Beth Mayer, LICSWDogMG_0918

I never thought I would be writing a blog about dogs!  I grew up in a home where most of my family was allergic to animals.  So, owning a dog was never considered, and by happenstance none of my friends had pets either.  If I touched a dog as a youngster, I had to wash my hands and change my clothes so that my sister would not have an allergy attack.  When I was young, my sister got bit on the face by a dog.  Another scary event happened many years ago when I was walking down the street on a cold winter day and two dogs starting fighting over each end of my long scarf.  I almost choked.  Needless to say, as a young person, I did not take kindly to animals.

Twenty-five years later, I am in private practice, and one of my clients asks me if she can bring her dog into the session with her because she hates leaving him at home when she comes to therapy.  I say yes because I am not sure what else to say, and she brings him into the next session.  At this point in my career, I know I love being a therapist, but I never had any training working with a client and his/her dog.  This is not something they teach in graduate school!  I slowly fell in love!  Don’t get me wrong.  My love was not an immediate response.  I first had to experience the dog getting used to me, smelling me, peeing on my floor a few times, and eventually coming to me for delicious treats.

After that, anyone that saw this dog coming out of my office asked if they could bring their dog in to my office. And, of course, I said yes.  From that moment on, I have had the most amazing and interesting experiences with dogs in my office. One of my most challenging experiences was when I was in a family therapy session and an elderly dog threw up.  We looked at one another to see what would happen.  Then, we learned by observing who went to clean up the mess and who just sat in their chair waiting for someone else to do it.  I, of course, did not move!

I have seen and heard people talk about the love they feel for their pets, sometimes in a more tender and caring manner then they speak about their human loved ones.  I have spoken to people about missing their deceased pets more than they miss their family members.  I have done trauma work with people whose dogs have been killed in car accidents and spoken to people about the trials and tribulations of taking their dogs on long trips and what it is like to have someone else care for their pets.

However, I never really understood the love a person can feel for their pets until I decided to take the leap of faith and own a dog myself.  My connection to my dog has been healing to me both as a therapist and as a recovered person.  Caring for my dog, I am reminded of my early days as a parent when I felt so strongly that parenting was the role I was meant to have in my life.  If you can relax and enjoy the experience, pets will calm you, love you, and appreciate you.  They will feel your energy and adapt to your mood.  I now understand what my clients mean when they say that their pets are so important to their recovery.  I am so grateful that I have found a pet that is both so life giving to me and my family and has helped me comprehend the love and companionship my clients feel when connecting to their pets.