In late January I was contacted about a young lady in the Pathways program who had a debilitating fear of dogs. This fear was paralyzing for her to a point she could not function in public and actually, upon seeing a dog in a window of a shop, bolted into traffic. With no promises, I agreed to bring my ever trusty partner Amita to do an initial assessment and see if we could help.
The first meeting with Katie brought tears and a run from the room. I tied Ami to a table at the end of the room to assure Katie she couldn’t get to her and we sat in chairs across the room and just started chatting. I recognized Katie as one of my Broadway kids from YEARS ago… I still have a hard time seeing my kids all grown up… so we just caught up on time. As we talked, Katie kept a keen eye on Ami and found she could control her movement and actions through hand signals from across the room. After a short while we just took a walk with Ami and I on one side of the hallway and Katie in the other. We ended the session with Katie taking a pic with Ami with distance between them, but a smile on her face.
Week two started with the same smile Katie had at the end of week one and ended with touching Amita and taking pics close to her and LOTS of kisses, which became Katies favorite thing.
By week three Katie was walking Amita on her own… outside… st barking neighborhood dogs… and getting ready to meet new dogs.
As the weeks went on, we introduced Katie to new dogs, multiple dogs at the same time, dogs running up to her (we did a search scenario where a search dog runs up for the “find” and goes back and forth from handler to Katie as she leads handler in) and Katie was focused on the task instead of the fact a dog was running at her so she had no adverse reaction. She met dogs she could make bark on command to desensitize her to the sound, learned skills to stop a loose dog from charging her on the street and how to react if a loose dog approached and wanted to meet her. She also learned how to act if she were walking on the sidewalk and a leashed dog was coming towards her as well as how to pass a dog when she has one on leash herself.
Each week that passed, Katie became more and more confident and relaxed. The major test was meeting her nemesis… which was the breed she was terrorized by as a child… a German shepherd. She met not just a German shepherd, but a ginormous German shepherd. By this time Katie never even hesitated! She embraced the shepherd as if she had known him her entire life and never had a fear of dogs. I also began to see pictures of Katie meeting strange dogs in stores and public places. She assured me she remembered to ask if the dog was friendly and if she could pet it 😃
The whole series culminated in a “graduation” where Katie led a pack walk with all the dogs she met along this journey. What an emotional day for all when Katie grabbed the leashes of two dogs and walked off like a pro leading a pack of 8 dogs……taking her life back!
The attached video is of Katie’s journey. This could NEVER have happened without the help of many wonderful dogs and their handlers. Thank you to Mike and Melissa Dean with Emmett and Lisa, Cheryl Runyan with Nora, Deb Dieterle with Lacey, Jean Jessup with Emma, Karen Fitzsimmons and Kurzon, Dee Griswold and Rowley and my very own superstar Amita. These dogs/handlers have truly changed a life ❤ ❤