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Meet Bella!

Introducing Blackburn Center’s Therapy Dog

After a traumatic experience, the decision to get help can be a difficult one. You may be scared about talking about what happened, reluctant to open up to someone else, or just stressed about the idea of reliving it all. At Blackburn Center, we understand how challenging going to therapy or counseling can be. Our latest addition to the team, therapy dog Bella, may make sessions slightly easier as she offers comfort and support to clients.

What Is a Therapy Dog?

In recent years, it has become more common to see people going about their daily lives with a dog by their side. In addition to service dogs – which are trained to perform a specific task for a person with a disability – you may see emotional support animals, which provide support to their owners and do not necessarily have training for a particular task. Both service dogs and emotional support animals typically live with the person that they are supporting.

By contrast, therapy dogs are a type of working dog that volunteer or work with a human handler in clinical settings, such as hospitals, nursing homes, and organizations that provide mental health services. Therapy dogs do not live with the people that they provide comfort and affection to, unlike service and emotional support animals. Therapy dogs typically have basic obedience training and certification. They also must have a good temperament to adapt to new places, people, smells, and equipment.

Therapy dogs may seem like a relatively new concept, but animal-assisted interventions have been around for hundreds of years. In fact, in 1792, the Quaker York Retreat in England used rabbits and poultry in a therapeutic setting. In the mid-1800s, Florence Nightingale advocated for the use of animals to help the sick, stating “A small pet animal is often an excellent companion for the sick, for long chronic cases especially. A pet bird in a cage is sometimes the only pleasure of an invalid confined for years to the same room. If he can feed and clean the animal himself, he ought always to be encouraged to do so.”

Studies show that therapy dogs may bring physical benefits to the humans that they support, including reducing anxiety, lowering blood pressure and heart rate, and increasing levels of feel-good hormones like endorphins and oxytocin. The dogs also benefit from their work, experiencing higher rates of endorphins and oxytocin compared to family pets.

What Does Bella Do at Blackburn Center?

Bella is a 4-year-old black and gray Goldendoodle who was trained through Youngwood’s Top Dog Therapy Team. Her human grandmother knew early on that Bella would make a great therapy dog, given her calm disposition and social demeanor. Bella became a therapy dog as a tribute to her grandmother.

Bella began her work at Blackburn Center in January 2023. At our offices, she offers comfort to clients during counseling or therapy sessions. She works with both children and adults. Given her training, Bella is able to sense when a person is distressed and will sit at their feet so that they can pet her. This gives clients something else to focus on – and a source of connection and comfort – when they are talking about something difficult, like a traumatic memory. When she knows that a client is especially stressed, she often gives them what we refer to as a “Bella hug,” leaning into them and putting her head onto their lap.

Many clients say that they can feel their stress melt away when they are sitting and petting her. One client told her therapist, “I didn’t think you could make me feel better today, but I walked out of here smiling because of Bella - not that you didn’t help me feel better, she’s special.”

Bella has a goofy personality, and many people state that they feel better just by being in her presence. When she isn’t in a session, she will greet clients, visit staff members and get lots of pets and love from employees and volunteers at Blackburn Center. She also visits our emergency shelter to provide comfort to residents there. Bella also loves taking naps at our offices when she isn’t busy!

At our 2023 Walk a Mile in Her Shoes® event, Bella wore a sash and red shoes. She

walked with some of her teammates from the Top Dog Therapy Team – and loved meeting so many new people!

In her spare time, Bella continues to go on therapy outings with the Top Dog Therapy Team, including to hospitals, schools, nursing homes, and other places in the community. She also loves being at home with her family of 6, especially her mom/handler. Bella loves to cuddle and play with her fur brothers at home. One of her favorite things to do outside of work is to go on her vacation with her family.

How We Can Help

At Blackburn Center, all of our services are trauma-informed. Adding Bella to our staff is another way that we can provide the highest level of care to victims and survivors of gender-based violence and other types of crime.

All of our services are free of charge and can be anonymous. Call us anytime at 1-888-832-2272 (TDD available) to get help or to learn more about our services.


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