Animal-Assisted Therapy and Practicing Professionals Category

Beyond Limits® Awards 2008

Finalists from the Animal-Assisted Therapy and Practicing Professionals Category are either Pet Partners who work with a professional to do Animal-Assisted Therapy (not Activities) work, or are professionals who utilize Pet Partners within their practice.

Sherri Rusch, M.S., CCC-SLP and Cali (Missouri) - WINNER

From August to May, speech-language pathologist Sherri Rusch and her Labrador Retriever Cali attend school each day at Warrensburg High. This dedicated Pet Partner team maintains their demanding daily work schedule in order to help students reach their therapy goals and create a better overall environment for the entire school. At the very least, Cali’s presence seems to create a safe atmosphere for sharing and serves as a stress reliever to students and teachers alike. But Cali’s hallway interactions often play a more overt role with the students Sherri serves professionally: helping to open up dialogue, facilitate interactions, and provide motivation for students to reach their therapy goals.

“They forget about not wanting to come to therapy. They forget they are working to improve self-control and social skills,” Sherri says. The team often works with students who struggle from Autism spectrum disorders, helping them improve self-control and social skills. One student says Cali is his “addiction” and pets or hugs her for long periods of time to calm down when he is overwhelmed. With a simple thump, thump, thump of her tail, Cali is able to communicate love and understanding in a way that can only come from the human-animal bond.

“It is heart-warming to see students who don’t ever smile and say kind words to others, melt in Cali’s presence.” - Simone Dillingham, Principal, Warrensburg High School

“This partnership had made a difference in countless lives; we can’t possibly measure the positive impact they have made.” - Simone Dillingham, Principal, Warrensburg High School

“Sherri is a fantastic teacher that cared enough about the kids to find a better way to serve them even when she met resistance.” - Monda Reynolds, Assistant Principal, Warrensburg High School.

Tammy Renaud, MA, OTR and Chief (Texas)

Deep in the heart of Texas, a young Golden Retriever/Saluki Mix named Chief, and his partner, Tammy Renaud, are making a difference— one child at a time. Together, this Animal Assisted Therapy team has found a way to inspire children to be more active participants in their own therapeutic healing. Tammy and Chief work side by side at a private outpatient clinic providing physical therapy, occupational therapy and speech therapy to its many diverse patients. Tammy has been witness to thousands of accounts of animals helping people. As a practicing Occupational Therapist, she incorporates animals such as Chief into her treatments as often as possible.

One of their many success stories involves a young girl named Leya with severe cerebral palsy. Prior to meeting Chief, Leya was unable to sit up on her own, had little motivation to move her body and could only speak one word. After only one Animal Assisted Therapy session Leya spoke her second word— and it just happened to be the name of a dog! Chief and Tammy continue to dedicate their lives to helping children like Leya through the wonders and beauty of the human animal bond.

“Tammy recognized the potential in Chief and made him a shining star. Now Chief makes sure the kids are the shining stars.” - Carol M. Goehrs

“Tammy and Chief’s astonishing success with Animal Assisted Therapy has given these families great hope for their children’s future.” - Joanie Patrick

Neresa Minatrea, PhD, LPCC, NCC, NADAC, CADC and Mitzi Ann (Kentucky)

Mitzi Ann, an abandoned Beagle mix from Kentucky, began her venture in compassion when she was adopted by Dr. Neresa Minatrea as she was undergoing chemotherapy and in need of some extra support. The two quickly bonded, and together discovered the powerful healing abilities of Animal Assisted Therapy. Today, Mitzi Ann works alongside Dr. Minatrea as a “co-therapist” in several settings.

The power of their work at an adult daycare facility inspired a 27-year-old man to speak for the first time ever, while visits to a correctional facility provoked a woman to declare “I didn’t think anyone could love me, but this little Beagle dog does.” Although she has earned numerous accolades, Mitzi Ann still possesses the most basic and indispensable ingredients needed in any counseling relationship.

“There just aren’t words to explain the joy and happiness her visits bring. She isn’t just a dog to us here, she’s our dear friend!” - Ronni L. Cardwell, Administrator, Active Day of Bowling Green

“Mitzi Ann and Dr. Minatrea have made such an impact in their field of work. I have heard so many stories of the individual lives that have been improved by the work of this once 'stray' dog.” - Nicole Gorham, DVM, Alpine Pet Care Center

“Mitzi Ann definitely is our hometown hero. Dr. Minatrea should also receive recognition for not only helping people, but for being an example to many that with a lot of love and a little training, a dog can certainly be much more than man’s best friend.” - Nicole Gorham, DVM, Alpine Pet Care Center

Robbi Woolard, MSW, Ph.D. and Seamus (California)

The partnership between psychologist Robbi Woolard and English cocker spaniel Seamus began years ago in England, but today the pair work as co-therapists at the University of California, Irvine’s Child Development Center School. Seamus attends most days with Robbi at this highly structured, behaviorally-based school for children where they work with children with a variety of disabilities including ADHD, Asperger’s, bi-polar and anxiety disorders. The kids earn time with Seamus as part of a “dog trainer” program in which they are taught to interact with and manage him.

One of his most amazing moments came when a student suffering from severe school phobia was unwillingly brought in. He sat curled up in a corner on the floor, sobbing to the point of throwing up. Nothing anyone said or did could reach him. Finally someone said, “Get Seamus.” Upon entering the room, Seamus calmly walked up to the young boy and climbed gently in his lap. Almost instantly the boy began to pet him and talk about his fear of school and not having control in his life. Within minutes, Seamus was able to accomplish what it would have taken an experienced psychologist days to achieve.

“I was absolutely amazed and grateful to this little dog for helping me bridge a connection to a very distressed young boy.” - Robbi Woolard

“Seamus has also proven to be an effective educator. Kids who do not like to read volunteer to read to Seamus. They have in Seamus an attentive non-judgmental listener.” - Ronald Kotkin, Director, Child Development Center School, University of California, Irvine

“When I am having a bad day, Robbi lets Seamus sit with me and calm me down. I think all schools should have dogs that work there.” - John, Fifth Grader, Child Development Center School


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