Puppy Magic

Puppy Magic

From Chicken Soup for the Dog Lover's Soul

Puppy Magic

Since I began incorporating animals into my child psychotherapy practice fifteen years ago, my life as a clinician— and as a person—has been turned upside down. Surrounded by my dogs, birds, lizards and fish, I feel like a modern-day Dr. Dolittle. Though in my case, it’s not that I talk to the animals, but that the animals help me in my work communicating with children in need.

Diane,* a dark-haired five-year-old, small for her age, came to me with a problem. Although she was a chatterbox in the house and with her family, no one had ever heard Diane say a word to anyone outside her home environment. Not one word.

For years her parents had simply told themselves that Diane was shy. But after her first week at kindergarten, her teacher called her parents into school for a conference and informed them that Diane needed professional help. Not only was the little girl unwilling to speak, but also she appeared terrified.

Diane’s parents, concerned and upset by this evaluation, tried toworkwith Diane to overcome her selectivemutism. Yet nothing they said or did seemed to make any impression on her. Diane refused to talk—in fact, seemed incapable of speech—when she was outside her family circle.

Diane’s parents contacted me and I agreed to see her. It was a Friday afternoon when Diane and her parents arrived for Diane’s initial session. They were all seated in the waiting room when my six-year-old golden retriever, Puppy, and I walked out to greet them. I noticed right away that Diane sat with her head down, her eyes directed toward the floor in front of her. She made no move to look up or acknowledge our entrance.

Puppy, walking ahead of me, made a beeline for Diane. Because Diane’s head was bowed, Puppy was just three feet from Diane when the girl finally caught sight of her. Startled by the unexpected sight of a large golden dog, the girl’s eyes became huge and then her mouth curved slowly into a smile. Puppy stopped directly in front of Diane and laid her head in the girl’s lap.

I introduced myself and Puppy, but Diane didn’t respond. She gave no indication that she had even heard me. Instead, Diane began to silently pet Puppy’s head, running her hands softly over Puppy’s ears, nose and muzzle. She was still obviously nervous and apprehensive at being at my office, but she was smiling and seemed to be enjoying her interaction with Puppy. I was speaking quietly with Diane’s parents when an idea hit me.

I turned back toward the girl and the dog and spoke Puppy’s name quietly. When Puppy looked up at me, I gave her a hand signal to come toward me and continue back into the inner office. Puppy immediately started walking toward me. As Puppy walked away, I watched Diane’s face fall and her eyes take on a sad and disappointed look. I said, “Oh, I’m sorry. I didn’t realize you wanted Puppy to stay with you. All you have to do for her to come back is say, ‘Puppy, come.’”

Diane’s parents stared at me, their expressions skeptical. For a few tense seconds, Diane sat debating what to do, her lower lip quivering. Then, in a soft voice, she called, “Puppy, come; please come, Puppy.”

Her parents’ gaze flew to their daughter and their jaws dropped in surprise. I gave Puppy the signal to go and she whirled around and ran over to Diane who slid off her chair to the floor, and kneeling, hugged Puppy tightly around the neck. We watched, Diane’s parents in tears, as Diane and Puppy snuggled happily together.

I knew that I had to seize the moment and sent Diane’s parents back into the office to wait for me. Sitting on the floor beside Puppy and Diane, I began to talk to Diane. I told her that I knew how hard it was for her to talk to people she didn’t know and how happy we were that she had been brave enough to call Puppy. Hoping to keep the miracle going, I asked her what she liked about Puppy. She hesitated a moment and then answered, “That she is soft. That she is funny.” As we talked, Puppy sat leaning against Diane, the little girl’s fingers laced through Puppy’s fur.

It was time for the session to end; I asked Diane to say good-bye to Puppy. She hugged Puppy again and said, “Good-bye.” Her voice was soft, but it was clear. She had made a remarkable breakthrough and had taken the first step in her journey toward being able to interact with the world outside her home. I was deeply pleased.

When Diane and her parents left, I sat in my office, stroking Puppy’s soft golden head. I knew that without her, the session would have gone completely differently. Puppy had worked her magic again.

Aubrey Fine, Ed.D.

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