support us on-site to make certain we were set up for success,” she says. “I know my limits. I’m a therapist and not a professional dog trainer. Having them 35 minutes and a phone call away, has been invaluable.” Whether Louie is utilized with a new family is a collective decision. The Sparrow Fund intake form asks about the client’s interest in canine-assisted therapy before the first visit. “Then we talk about it, what it might look like in practice and why we offer it. If the parents aren’t comfortable with it that really is OK.” Louie’s role is helping establish a comfort zone for all, particularly the children, and making each visit fun. Raudenbush knew she was headed in the right direction early on with Louie when an upset stomach earned him a sick day. A disappointed little girl who attended a session with her dad felt Louie’s absence right away, saying, “Louie helps me focus because he keeps my hands busy.” On The Sparrow Fund website, Raudenbush articulates, “The fancy way to say that is that he promotes self-regulation in the repeated motion of petting and the sensory input of long, soft fur and of deep pressure when he lays his head or whole body on people’s laps. But there are other ways he makes hard things easier. For example, I’ve noticed how much easier it is for kids – particularly teenagers – to talk about hard things when they are able to focus attention on Louie and have their parents and me gazing at him, too, instead of at them. He seems to bring out more words and feelings.”
Raudenbush notes, “He just makes hard work more fun. One child recently said, to me, ‘I don’t so much like you, but I do like your dog.’ I simply replied, well, that makes a lot sense to me. I ask you to do a lot of hard work. I’m really glad Louie makes it a little easier for you. I like him, too.” The therapist recalls an appointment with a Mom, Dad and a young girl who had been adopted out of foster care after suffering severe abuse before becoming their daughter. Louie greeted her gently as if he sensed her hesitancy to risk another potentially harmful relationship. “At one point, she stood up to work with him but became nervous. She put her hand out to offer him a cue, but it was barely noticeable at her side. Louie walked over and rather than respond to the cue, he laid his head against her stomach, standing up, looking up at her face. She said, ‘Miss Kelly, I think he knew I was scared.’ It was the first time she expressed a scared feeling.” Louie’s pretty special, and he has a certificate to prove it. Here,
he’s letting his fans know about his latest recognition: “Hi. It’s me, Louie. It feels good when people tell me that what I do matters. We all like to hear that. Thank you, American Kennel Club, for telling me so with this very fancy award ‘in recognition of dogs in the service of mankind.’” Photo courtesy of Kelly Raudenbush Off the Clock There’s a bit of irony in the Louie story, too. Raudenbush’s husband, Mark, for years resisted adding a dog to the family. “We were busy with work and raising children and he just felt the responsibility of pet ownership was a bit much. Now, he and Louie are best buds,” Raudenbush smiles. The 58-pound Golden’s demeanor doesn’t change a lot off working hours. As the six-member family has all been around home chiefly, he meanders around for a hug (he pushes his head against people’s legs as a hug and remains within reach if any heightened emotion flares anew. He isn’t without his quirks, says Mom. “He has a weakness for stuffed toys and tears them apart within minutes and loses all his manners at the sight of water. The boy loves to swim. His favorite thing to do with me for fun is to walk around a nearby creek where I let him run off-leash like a toddler playing in a park fountain.” And if you’re wondering who’s training who, Louie puts that to rest at home. When he wants a snack, he often start executing some of his skills on his own – like opening and closing kitchen cabinets, retrieving dish towels and such. Usually it works! P.S.: Louie and Raudenbush were finalists in the 2020 AKC ACE Awards Therapy Dog category. 58
The 4-year-old Golden Retriever Louie savors his nose-to- nose interactions with this little girl adopted from China and all of the children who come to better understand their own stories of adoption. Photo courtesy of Kelly Raudenbush Canine Co-therapist One of the goals The Sparrow Fund has for children is to help equip them to identify and express their feelings. At every get- together, everyone practices sharing emotions, specifically their mads, sads, glads and scareds. So it was only fitting the canine co- therapist do the same. Yes, Loue has been trained to demonstrate the four feeling words and in the process serves as an incentive and reward for the kids to share their own. The magic that Louie offers, Raudenbush explains, comes in small, simple interactions with children and families rather than big epiphanies. “Children who may feel unlovable get the joy of experiencing Louie’s excitement to see them. Those who may feel unable get the experience of successfully leading Louie. Kids who may struggle to give and receive affection get to safely practice both.
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