My first therapy dog

Practicing therapy in her home for many years, Dr. Spector had sort of incidental therapy pets in her cats. She found that if a cat wandered into a session and allowed the patient to pet him or her, some would relax and have an easier time opening up.

Here’s the thing about cats:

Sometimes they want to be your best friend, and other times, they want nothing to do with you.

Dr. Spector’s specialty is children, and if you know one, you know that expectations are a big deal for them. Once her patients became accustomed to having an animal to snuggle, it could be a pretty big hindrance to therapy if said animals chose not to cooperate. Finding the fickle nature of her cats to not be very conducive to consistent sessions, Dr. Spector began her search for a therapy dog in 1999.

After doing some research, Dr. Spector decided that a young adult golden retriever, whose basic training was already done, would be the best choice. Goldens make exceptional therapy and service animals because of their innate, overwhelming desire to please, and their submissive tolerance to the kinds of things certain other breeds won’t stand for, like poking, hugging, and the requirement to stay in one place for extended periods of time.

A month into looking for the right dog, Dr. Spector purchased Iris, a one year old purebred golden retriever from Lisa Smith at Goodtime Goldens in Bedford, NY, on a recommendation from her veterinarian. Iris went home with Dr. Spector on a Saturday and started working in her office that Monday, but also continued training at Ox Ridge Kennel Club, and was certified as a therapy dog by Bright and Beautiful Therapy Dogs.

From the get go, Iris was a natural. She was clearly at home as a working dog with an important job to do, and loved interacting with the kids who came into Dr. Spector’s practice, and even helped some who’d previously been afraid of dogs learn not to be. She put everyone at ease with her sweet demeanor, and demonstrated an amazing ability to know where and when she was needed.

For example, Dr. Spector once had a mother in her waiting room while she had a session wither her child. In the six and a half years that Iris worked, this was the only time when she insisted on staying in the waiting room with the parent of a patient, rather than come into the session with the child. As it turned out, the mother had just recently had a late term miscarriage and was grieving. Iris knew that this mother needed her more than anyone else did at that moment.

Another time, a patient told Dr. Spector that he was getting a divorce. Iris leapt up from her spot on the floor and put her head right in his lap, as if to offer her support.

Iris passed away in 2006, but her legacy is in Dr. Spector’s continued use of dogs in her practice.

About Dr. Spector

Dr. Spector received her bachelor’s degree magna cum laude with Honors in Psychology, from Brown University and awarded master’s and doctoral degrees in Clinical Psychology with a Child Clinical Specialization from Case Western Reserve University. She specializes in psychological assessment and psychotherapy (including DBT) for children and adolescents.

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