‘My dog is my therapy dog!’ is a common refrain I hear from pet parents. Every person whose family includes dogs has no doubt about the joy, laughter, bonding and stress relief it brings to the family.
Our family realized just how much we missed these therapeutic effects after we lost our 13.5-year-old dog, Lara. Miss Kay, all of 3.5 years at the time, felt the loss the most. Just like me, our daughter is neurodiverse, and we underestimated how much Lara contributed to Miss Kay’s feeling of well-being. This realisation egged us to bring another dog home, hopeful that having a canine presence in our home again would have immense benefits for all of us, but most of all, for Miss Kay.
Caramel, our little golden cocker spaniel came into our lives at the age of 4 months last May, and her relationship with Miss Kay continues to amaze me every day. Caramel chose to be Kay’s family. We were playing with a bunch of puppies, and only Caramel chose to engage with Miss Kay constantly. She sat at her feet and lovingly looked into her eyes as if trying to connect with her soul. She would bring toys and sticks for Miss Kay to throw at her, and by the end of an evening together, they looked like they were meant to be.
Though it was evident that Caramel and Miss Kay had bonded deeply and meaningfully, I forced myself to be objective, as a dog trainer and mental health professional. I assessed Caramel on all the parameters we consider non-negotiable for a stable therapy dog, and she passed with flying colours!
What we hadn’t anticipated then was Caramel’s instinctive ability to sense when Miss Kay was going into sensory overload. She would climb gently onto Miss Kay’s lap and lick her face. This very quickly became ‘their thing’ and Miss Kay started inviting Caramel for a cuddle session when she struggled. When Miss Kay is in a full-blown sensory-triggered meltdown and there is nothing to be done but go through it, Caramel sits next to her and licks her face till she is able to calm down. This has become a beautiful positive circle, where Miss Kay has learnt her triggers and understands her body better. She has learnt that having Caramel helps her. She asks Caramel for help, and Caramel is always happy to oblige. Caramel takes her job of helping Miss Kay stay calm, or re-gain her calm very seriously.
Caramel also encourages Miss Kay to try harder with things she struggles with because having her best buddy there eases the burden! From online school to vision treatment, Caramel is by her side all the way.
Their love for each other and for exploring life together makes our hearts happy many times a day, and we are so so grateful that Caramel and Miss Kay chose each other!
Huzannah Banajee Joseph is a psychologist and canine behaviour counsellor. She specialises in therapy dog training, rehabilitation of fearful dogs, and integrating dogs and children.
Her ‘family-focused’ methods empower children to develop their sensitivity and dog-aware skills.
Huzannah has been in this field since 2004. Follow @pawpalsindia on Instagram to know more about her work