Aurora Behavioral Health Services (ABHS) – Eastern WI

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Aurora Psychiatric Hospital (APH) – Wauwatosa, WI

Aurora Behavioral Health Services offers complete mental health treatment options, provided by highly trained professionals in a caring, confidential manner to meet individual and family needs. If you or someone you know needs help, contact us — online or by phone at 1-877-666-7223 — as soon as possible. Read more about pet therapy visits at Aurora here

In-Patient Unit Visits

Recognizing the potential for significant treatment benefits, in April of 2008, through a partnership with Pets Helping People, Aurora Psychiatric Hospital launched its animal assisted interactions program for its inpatient services.  Teams visit all units at the hospital bringing acceptance, joy and warmth to children, adolescents and adults coping with anxiety, depression, substance abuse and other behavioral health conditions.  Each owner and dog team brings their own style to their visit; some come full of energy and tricks; some come and play ball; and some prefer to lay quietly on the floor waiting for a snuggle.

[pullquote4 align=”right” textColor=”#FFFFFF”]APH’S VERY FIRST PET VISIT – A LITTLE GIRL BEGINS TO TRUST
A little girl on the inpatient child and adolescent unit at APH felt very alone and afraid. Despite many efforts, the staff was having great difficulty getting her to interact with anyone. Then she received an unexpected visit from a Pets volunteer. Immediately upon seeing the dog, the little girl’s eyes lit up as she moved towards the dog and began to pet him. Sensing Imagine’s quiet, non-judgmental energy, the little girl’s confidence grew as she reached for the dog’s leash and began to silently mouth his name. Imagine was able to reach her in a a way no clinical professional had. This marked the beginning of her journey and opened the door for other professionals to enter.[/pullquote4]

“My dog was in the middle of being loved by a group of young children who were having her do simple tricks like sit, give paw, high five etc when I noticed a small dark haired boy sitting on a chair quietly watching the activity.  I approached him and asked if he liked dogs and if he would like to meet Pixiestix.  I walked her over to the young boy and he began to pet her then quietly started to ask her to sit, give paw etc. Much to my amazement my “party girl” Pixiestix was focused and gentle in response to his every command.

When it was time to leave I thanked the boy for working with Pixiestix and told him he would be a great dog trainer.  He gave her a hug and was beaming.  As we were leaving that day, Constantine, one of the nurses on duty shared that, “that dog provided more therapy for that young man than any human could hope to offer.”

The nurse on duty that day was Constantine but the kindness and professionalism that we experienced from Brenda, Mark, Perry, Shane, Kathy and many others whose names I’ve forgotten will always be appreciated.  Aurora Psychiatric Hospital really is a first class facility, in my opinion.” – Vicki Korelewski, Owner & Handler

Through simple interactions like these with sensitive therapy dogs and insightful handlers, individuals struggling with feelings of insecurity and a lack of confidence, often discover an inner strength.  This can translate to increased trust and openness to staff, allowing the benefits of more traditional therapeutic interventions to work.

Riley interacting during Alumni Group
‘Riley’ visiting an Alumni Group facilitated by Mike McDonald.

“On the Child/Adolescent Unit, we consider the therapy dogs our care partners. The Pet Visitation program has given our patients a positive, unconditional caring experience….I can’t thank the pet-handler teams enough for their commitment to our kids.”
–Karin Meier, Manager, Child & Adolescent Services, Aurora, Psychiatric Hospital.

Behavioral Health Alumni Support Group

In addition to the pet visits to the inpatient units, one handler-pet team, Mark/Linda Schaefer and their soft-coated wheaten terrier Riley, also participate in a Behavioral Health Support Group.  Designed to provide ongoing support and resources for individuals discharged from the programs at Aurora Psych, this support group, facilitated by Mike McDonald, Senior Activity Therapist, welcomes the unique presence Riley offers.  When participants were asked how they felt about having a therapy dog in their group, they shared: “he accepts me for who I am”, “he doesn’t judge me”, “he makes me laugh”, “he keeps me focused on here and now.” The feelings captured in candid remarks echo the tenants of documented research on the benefits of animal assisted therapy.

“Having witnessed the power of animal assisted interactions and having learned of its application in a patient-focused model of care, it is one of the core patient–centered programs I wanted at Aurora Psych. It epitomizes the virtues of a patient–focused care model embracing the mind, body and spirit. And it works – we have many stories of how, through interactions with the therapy dogs, patients have become more open and receptive to staff and program activities.”
–Peter Carlson, President, Aurora Psychiatric Hospital and Behavioral Health Services

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How Therapy Dogs Support the Emotional and Behavioral Healing Journey
  • Create a non-threatening invitation to socialize
  • Present a non-judgmental audience and an offer of unconditional acceptance
  • Provide an avenue for trust
  • Encourage reflection and story telling
  • Empower and increase confidence though directing dog behaviors
  • Give permission to be silly
  • Channel focus to the here and now.[/colored_box]