Monterey, CA, April 05, 2018 — There are four special unpaid employees at Interim Inc. that are known for their calm, gentle manner and ability to provide emotional therapeutic support that aids in the healing process for Interim’s residents.
They are four therapy dogs that work directly in programs at Interim, a Monterey-based private nonprofit organization that provides support services, housing and treatment for adults with mental illness in Monterey County.
All four are trained to provide emotional therapeutic support and assisting in the healing process. These four-legged companions help decrease feelings of anxiety, increase feelings of comfort and safety, and reduce loneliness in residents.
Here’s the story of three of the canines, Angel, Rufus and Juno:
About twice a month, and sometimes more, Manzanita House has a visiting “Angel.” Manzanita House is Interim’s crisis residential program, where residents are recovering from a mental health crisis. The emotional support that a therapy dog can provide to clients at this juncture is much needed.
Sometimes you will find Angel hanging out in the Living Room, sometimes in the Dining Room or Day Room. She has been known to calmly sit next to residents on the couch or enthusiastically greet them with a big kiss. She is always accompanied by her chauffer, friend and personal human, Grace Rider.
Angel is a registered therapy dog. Her black and tan sausage shape wiggles with happiness as she greets you.
“I was told Dachshunds could be hard to train, but Angel wasn’t that way,” says Rider. “The International Therapy Dog trainer in Salinas says Angel’s got the perfect therapy dog personality. She’s very vocal for a dachshund and will greet with you with a gurgle. She loves everyone she meets.”
Angel has been visiting Manzanita House regularly for about four years. Rider says Angel seems to understand the residents — whether they need a quiet canine friend to sit next to them for a while, or if someone needs full-on doggy kisses. As the residents interact with Angel, sometimes they share their journey with Rider. They both listen without judgment.
When she is not at Manzanita House, Angel visits the Hospice at CHOMP and other rehabilitation centers in the area, spreading doggy joy with every visit.
Manzanita House has another regular visitor who comes to play with residents. Rufus is a Black Lab and his owner Carla stopped in at the Interim offices recently to meet the administrative staff.
“Rufus came from the Monterey County SPCA. He was part of a program called ‘Take the Lead’ where young people who are part of the juvenile probation program work with dogs in the shelter to train them,” says Carla, Rufus’ human. Rufus was taught basic commands, how to walk on a leash and basic obedience. (Unfortunately, this program has been discontinued.)
“We got Rufus when he was 4 months old — he’s 9 years old now — and had him evaluated and trained at the Zoom Room (now California Canine Training) in Pacific Grove, with the idea that he could be a therapy dog,” said Carla. “Part of the training was for me, on how to handle him. Rufus passed with flying colors and went on to receive specialized therapy training from Therapy Dogs International.”
Rufus especially likes to play ball with the residents in the back yard at Manzanita House. Sometimes he can be found rolling on the floor in the living room, nuzzling a resident. He loves to play and loves meeting new people.
“When we stop in to visit, the staff at Manzanita makes an announcement over the intercom that Rufus is here, and the residents, and sometimes staff, come out to see him,” Carla said.
When not “working,” Rufus lives at home with his humans, Carla and Tony and “sister” Cammie, a white lab who is a hospital therapy dog.
The homelike setting of Interim’s Bridge House program in Monterey provides a structured, non-institutional therapeutic community where residents with co-occurring substance use disorders and psychiatric disabilities learn to rebuild their lives.
At Bridge House, Juno, a St. Bernard, works the night shift as a therapy dog. Juno’s human is Leah Mahar, who incidentally also works the night shift at Bridge House. Leah has been on staff for eight years, six of which she has been accompanied by Juno.
“I had been working here a couple of years, and knew about therapy dogs and how they could help people with stress,” said Mahar. “I started looking for a dog that would make a good therapy dog, and saw Juno advertised on Craigslist. I called her owner who had Juno and her mother — they had originally thought to breed Juno. I told the owner that I was looking for a dog to be a therapy dog, and she said she thought Juno’s temperament was perfect for that kind of job.”
Juno’s training began with regular canine obedience classes. But to become a therapy dog, she had to be able to pass additional tests, such as not jumping on people, not reacting to other dogs, and not eating food dropped on the ground. She had to remain calm in situations where other people and animals around her might be agitated. Juno passed with flying colors!
For residents of Bridge House who are learning to cope with mental illness while also dealing with substance use disorders, Juno’s gentle acceptance can be as healing as medication.
A typical shift for Juno and Leah begins about 10:45 p.m., and some residents will wait up to visit with Juno before they go to bed.
“Sometimes it’s hard for our residents to settle into their new routine,” said Mahar. “They are away from home and may be missing their families and pets. Juno is just there for them, unconditionally.”
Often, a few minutes petting and talking to Juno helps residents relax before bed. Since Juno and Leah’s shift continues until 8 a.m., residents often visit with Juno when they first get up in the morning. She provides a comforting presence that settles them at the start of their day.
Interim believes in the healing power of our four-legged friends, and the results are evident by the many smiles at Manzanita House and Bridge House.
P.O. Box 3222
Monterey, CA 93942
About Interim Inc.
Interim, Inc. is a private nonprofit organization that provides a unique combination of support services, housing and treatment for adults with mental illness in Monterey County. Services provided include affordable supportive housing, residential treatment, mental health and dual-recovery services, case coordination, therapeutic services, outreach and intensive support for homeless adults, supported education and employment, day treatment and peer support.
Marci Bracco Cain
Salinas, CA 93901