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Pet Therapy: A Bond Between Pets, Owners and Patients

Therapy pet

Win Hageman, a pet therapy volunteer with Compassus in Ozark, Mo., shows how true companionship can help nearly anyone with their fear.

Pet Therapy

Willow the therapy dog


Pet Therapy

Willow was the most frightened dog I had ever known. Because of her profoundly timid personality, she had been returned to the Mo-Kan Border Collie Rescue, in Kansas City, Mo., three times by families who wanted a more engaging dog.

Her last adoptive family hoarded animals, keeping them all in crates and giving them very little human interaction. That awful situation only served to intensify Willow’s anxiety and fear.

Then I adopted her, and for a year I tried to help her out of her fearfulness. We also worked with a trainer, but nothing was working. She continued to hunker down in corners, resist petting, and avoid any interaction with me.

Then, one night I was looking at the Mo-Kan website just to see the pretty faces up for adoption, and it came to me — maybe another dog could teach Willow how to be less afraid and more happy.

I saw Holli’s photo. The Border Collie mix had been wandering the streets of Hollister, Mo., when she was taken to the city pound, whose employees contacted Mo-Kan.

Holli was being fostered locally, so I called the foster mom and asked for a two-week try at seeing if Holli could help Willow come around. Holli was so happy, and so sweet and seemed very smart, but Willow’s fearfulness was so severe that I realized it was going to take longer than two weeks.

It has been three years now, and in that time Willow has learned how to be a happy dog simply by watching another happy dog. Willow saw Holli doing things, such as jumping up on a chair next to me to get petted. Willow would never do that; now, she does it all the time. Willow never stayed in the back yard by herself; I always had to be there. But when Holli came, she engaged with Holli and learned to be there with another dog.

Willow does not hide in corners anymore. She greets me when I come home. She visits with company. Most of all, she has learned it is good to wag her tail and be happy.

In the meantime, Holli and I have bonded because she is so sweet and happy and most of all, the smartest dog I have ever had.

I am so blessed that I listened to my inner voice that said she could help Willow. She has been a real gift to both of us.