the Video of Rusty's trick
therapy at UNT
McMurtrys Dream Job
People and Pets
Cynthia Chandler (background) and therapy pet Rusty
Professor Cynthia Chandler brings her red and white cocker spaniel,
Rusty, and white cat, Snowflake, to the Denton Juvenile Detention
Center. As young men and women walk through high-security doors,
Chandlers pets are poised with toys to greet them.
At first, the expressions of the adolescents are lackluster and
distant. That changes when Rusty and Snowflake go into action
Rusty licking, cuddling and barking and Snowflake leaping at a toy
dangling from a string.
Laura Prillwitz, therapeutic program coordinator for the center,
says when Chandler reinforces positive behavior in Rusty
praising him and patting his head students see that a healthy
response builds a healthy relationship.
Because of Dr. Chandler and her pets, these youth have an
opportunity to channel their energy into more responsible behavior,
A few simple dog tricks, like a high-five or a game of fetch, can
build trust in an adolescent. When Rusty and Snowflake are in a
restful or cuddly mood, students learn about empathy. When a student
has a reading problem or a speech difficulty, Rusty, under Chandlers
supervision, helps reduce stress and boost confidence. His unconditional
love fosters self-esteem.
UNT professor of counseling, had known the love of her own pets
for years, but it wasnt until she traveled to Europe and saw
dogs accepted into public places that she thought about pets in
When she returned to the United States, she brought Rusty to work
with her while she saw patients and taught classes.
With Rusty present, cuddling and comforting, my patients began
to feel better faster and my students showed a greater interest
in their courses, she says.
She also noticed how quickly patients and students bonded with Rusty.
The results of his influence inspired her to become a nationally
certified pet partner and animal-assisted therapy instructor in
Animals can help people by just visiting them, Chandler
says. But animal-assisted therapy generally refers to a more
formal treatment plan to help humans recover from emotional and
She and Rusty completed their training through the Delta Society,
an organization that provides education in animal-assisted activities
and therapy. They learned skills needed to visit safely in hospitals,
nursing homes, classrooms and other facilities.
Pet therapy helps people feel less lonely and depressed, Chandler
says, and just the presence of a pet can make people relax and open
up to others. The unconditional love a pet provides
especially a certified animal-assisted therapy pet can change
a persons life.
to the rescue
says one of Rustys most inspiring interventions at the Denton
Juvenile Detention Center occurred with a troubled teen who refused
to talk with her probation officer. Aware of Rustys reputation
for healing, the officer asked if Rusty could come meet the girl.
This meeting was the beginning of an incredible healing,
Rusty met her halfway at first and then moved closer. She
went to the floor, hugged Rusty and began to cry as he leaned closer.
Through chest-shaking sobs, she was able to open up emotionally
to Rusty. When the probation officer returned, she was transformed.
The girls healing is just one of Rustys victories. To
honor the dog, the youth at the center placed a photo of him on
their wall. Chandler hopes other pets will join this gallery one
day. She has many hopes for the future of her pets.
she created an animal-assisted therapy course at UNT, and the program
has expanded to include three community workshops a year.
This new animal-assisted therapy curriculum should enhance
the ranking of UNTs counseling program, says Michael
Altekruse, chair of UNTs Department of Counseling, Development
and Higher Education. The counseling program has been rated in the
top 20 in the country by U.S. News and World Report
for the last five years and has twice received the outstanding program
award for the United States from the Association for Counselor Education
Altekruse says animal-assisted therapy promises to be very helpful
to different populations in the community, including the elderly,
young people and people who are depressed.
The course and workshops are open to undergraduates and graduates
of all majors as well as professionals and volunteers who wish to
learn how to work with their pets as therapy partners. Professionals
from various fields, such as teaching, counseling, social work,
recreational therapy and psychology, benefit from the program by
applying therapeutic techniques to their work, says Chandler, and
trained volunteers can benefit the community by offering pet therapy
in settings such as nursing homes.
on the future
about a successful program that uses dogs to help kids with reading
difficulties, Chandler has a new project. She envisions a place
where professionals and volunteers can be trained to work with their
pets to help kindergarten through 12th-grade students with pet-assisted
educational programs. Counseling students would also be exposed
to this form of therapy, and people of all ages would benefit from
the positive human-animal interactions.
Chandler looks forward to the day when Rusty and Snowflake are joined
by many other pet partners to bark, lick and cuddle their way into
the hearts of those who need them most.
For more information about animal-assisted therapy, call Chandler
at (940) 565-2914 or send her e-mail at firstname.lastname@example.org.