erikaMeet One of Our Featured Pet Partner Team – Erika and Linda Brewer. Erika is the animal half of the Pet Partner Team with Linda Brewer

BREWER’S TRUE STORIES OF ANIMAL THERAPY

I teach in a very unique high school where all the students know and care about each other and their teachers. Recently, a well-loved student died in a tragic accident on a Friday night. After speaking with my principal, we decided that I should bring my Pet Partner Erika to school early on Monday morning and be there as the students arrived. I was trained as a grief counselor several years ago, but I have only recently started to use my dogs to help people begin the grieving process. As our students arrived, the faculty met them in the parking lot; I had to tell some of my students that their friend had been killed in a ‘freak” accident and reassure them that no drugs or alcohol had been involved. It was a difficult time for all of us. Most of our students are 15 to 18 years old, and many have experienced more losses than most adults have.

Erika worked from 7:30 that Monday morning until 4:00 that afternoon. She did not have a minute all day away from students; when we went out for potty breaks, students went with us. They petted her, the used her as a pillow, they brought her water, they shared their food with her, and they cried into her fur. Never once did she pull away or ask to leave.

When two students curled up against her for comfort, she did not move for over an hour. One student was so devastated that he could not speak without crying. He would go sit all by himself and sob, and then he would come to my room to hug Erika. One the last day of school, almost three months later, he thanked me for bringing her. He apologized for not thanking me sooner, but he had been unable to talk about how he felt until then. He said that having Erika there that day to hug had meant more to him than I would ever know.

Another student had been so upset that her friends had asked me to try to talk to her. Normally a very talkative student, she had withdrawn and would not speak to anyone. She wandered into my class and collapsed into hysterical sobs on the floor just as I was planning to leave for a quick lunch break. Erika went to her immediately and laid her head in the student’s lap. As she stroked Erika’s head, she began to talk, not about the loss of a friend but about the loss of her father who had died a few years earlier. His death had been so painful for her that she had locked those memories away because she could not live with them. I knew that she had attempted suicide more than once, so I had been extremely concerned for her. But as she sat on the floor with Erika and me, she let all those painful emotions out for the first time. As long as she stroked Erika, she could talk. If she stopped touching Erika, she stopped being able to talk. It was a powerful experience for all three of us. It was wonderful to see her become so much stronger in the weeks following that time she spent with Erika and me. She later said that Erika’s understanding had been the key that opened her heart and mind so that she could talk about the most horrible event of her young life and finally begin to heal.