Workin' for a Livin'

There’s a new face in Dryden’s Employee Assistance Program office – a furry one. EAP manager Kathleen Christian has begun introducing a standard poodle named Ella into her work counseling employees and their families, and decided to share the experience in a blog. Through Ella’s perspective and her own, in coming weeks Dr. Christian will share the story of Ella the Therapy Dog’s arrival, training and impact at the center.

The use of animals in therapy is a growing practice. Wide-ranging clinical studies of its effectiveness have verified significant and positive results. Trained therapy animals like Ella are turning up in hospitals, nursing homes, counseling centers and elsewhere – anyplace they can offer human colleagues the comfort of a friendly nuzzle and some warm companionship. Follow Ella’s story here and help welcome her to Dryden!


10/18/10 – No breakfast this morning. I hope there isn’t going to be another bath. She brushed me last night and said tomorrow we go to work. What is this place? She says this is Dryden Flight Research Center and She is going to explain more, later. It looks huge and there aren’t many trees and there is no grass anywhere. It smells like dried plants and something else – She says it is jet fuel. This is work? Where will I run with Jack? We go inside a big building with strange glass doors. We walk down a long hallway into a room that smells like Her. She puts a big blanket down on the floor with some of my toys. She brought a bowl with water and gives me breakfast. At least I’m not hungry any more. We go outside and walk past very, very big buildings. She says this one is the hangar. Some day, She says, I will run and play in there. She says I will make the people happy. We walk across more concrete than I have ever seen, and go behind a building. She says this is where I can go for a private “bio break.” Lots of smells – I can’t see any animals except birds, but I can smell cat, rabbit, squirrel, and even something that smells like a wild dog. Where are the animals that belong to these smells?


I follow her up more stairs than I have ever seen. This is very hard. They are steep. She tells me I am a good girl. We go to a large room with more people than I have ever seen, and they are sitting very close together. This is confusing. The people make me worried.  I sit next to Her. Some people come up and hold up the back of their hand in front of my face. There is no food there. I don’t know what I am supposed to do with their hands. Some people try to grab me after they show me their hand. They talk loud and move their face very close to me and stare at my eyes. I feel afraid and I don’t know what to do, but I try not to move. She talks to them. She talks to me in a calm voice then the people go away. I lay down on the floor and go to sleep. It’s better that way.


10/20/10 – She talks to people when they come into our office. I want to lay down behind Her desk, on my bed that she put there for me. Instead, She puts the leash on me and brings me around to sit between Her and the people. I lie down and go to sleep. Some of them talk to me, some of them don’t.


A man comes to the office and sits on the couch. He talks softly to me and I sit closer to him. Then he sits on the floor and I lay down next to him. This is good. She gives him a dog cookie, and he gives it to me.


A lady comes in and sits down. She doesn’t talk to me. Something about her is different and I get up and sit next to her leg. I like leaning on her, and she lets me.


10/22/10 – She takes me outside in front of the hangar. Some very big men walk toward us, and say, “Hey, is she the mascot?” They are happy, and want to talk about me and ask Her questions.


On the other side of the hangar, we see another man. She says he is an engineer. He comes over and tells Her that he doesn’t own dogs and doesn’t like them much. He talks to Her and ignores me. After a few minutes, he gets low to make his face level with mine. He doesn’t grab me or get too close, so I sit next to Her, waiting. Then he touches me and it feels okay. I lie down, even though the concrete is very cold. He lies down next to me! Then when he stands up and walks away, I feel like something is different. She seems calm, and I feel proud.


When we go back to the office, a man and a woman come and sit down. The man is crying. The woman is very, very uncomfortable. I want to be next to the woman, so I get up and sniff her. I sit with her and she puts her hand softly on my head. I lie down there and sleep. When I wake up, they are leaving.


Kathy’s note: Ella’s first week at work has been exciting and surprising. Although I expected people to react to her in a positive way, I never guessed they would react so strongly. On Tuesday and Thursday when Ella stayed home, each person I would see in the hallway would ask where she was. Everyone knows her name, even people I have never spoken to. My co-worker, Monique, is peppered by questions about her from people all across the center.


I am surprised by how overwhelmed Ella has been and how awkward many employees have acted around her. Employees find it difficult to slow down in their approach and I have had to be very assertive in order to help them – and her – learn to interact. In my office, Ella reacts to some people and sleeps through the hour with most. It remains to be seen whether she will be able to adapt effectively to this environment. I know that, for both of us, challenges lie ahead.