Updated: Apr 15
The Human-Animal Connection brings people and animals together for the benefit of both. Our new program, Heroes4Animals trains veterans and active-duty to help shelter dogs that may be challenging adoption cases due to shyness, fear, adverse histories, or under socialization.
Learning how to help these animals become adoptable leads to a sense of fulfillment and purpose. All of the nearly one hundred shelter dogs we have worked with, using our simple and effective methods, have been adopted! Just like the veteran, the dogs have been given a chance to heal and blossom and express the love in their hearts. And this program, which is free for veterans and active duty, comes with cuddles and kisses!
The Human-Animal Connection specializes in helping animals and humans heal from the impact of stress, trauma, adversity, and isolation. Our system is based on 56 Principles of Gentle Interactions and Healing. We have twelve healing methods that involve soothing touch as well as methods that do not require touch or even physical proximity. Some animals, (as well as people) are not ready for touch and one of our key principles is based on building mutual trust before physical contact of any kind is attempted. This means working at the pace that is right for both the animal and the person.
We help animals and humans regain this sense of trust by working slowly, at the right distance that feels safe for both. There is a perfect distance for every interaction and we teach the humans to sense and understand this "perfect spacing" by accurately observing and reading the body language of the animal. There is also a rhythm for how long a session should be. And it should always be peaceful, pleasurable, and fun. We use only positive training methods because we are building relationships based on kindness, compassion, and trust. We are all about building the bond and connection between the human and the animal. This is the foundation of healing.
The Act Resilient Method
The Human-Animal Connection is a new 501c3 Non-Profit organization. But it has a dozen-year history as The Act Resilient Method, which has been presented to over 4,000 Service members, Veterans, and Health Care Providers. Act Resilient was part of a team that won a national workplace resilience award from The American Psychological Association for our Human-Animal Bond Program at Tripler Army Medical Center. We have several commendations from top Army Generals and I was also given President Obama's Volunteer Service Award for this work.
Finding a New Sense of Purpose
One of the many challenges of being separated from the military is a loss of a sense of meaning and purpose. This can lead to an escalating sense of disconnection and despair. Learning to work with animals in a shelter environment, especially those who are not thriving in that situation, and connecting with animals at a deeper level is immediately healing. Learning to gain the trust of a shy dog -- perhaps one that has been shaking, cowering in the corner, unwilling to engage with strangers -- and building a pathway of trust and connection increases that animal's chance of being adopted is so rewarding.
This photo is of a Thai Navy sailor who saved five kittens from a sinking, burning ship. They all survived! And just as importantly, morale was given a huge boost! When we act at our highest level we regain our sense of self-respect. Helping those who really need help is the fast lane to restoring hope and faith in oneself. Serving those who have been abandoned and with poor chances of adoption is a pathway to healing for the animal -- and the human.
Cuddles to Combat Isolation
Animals have a long and honored tradition in combat support. There is no technology as effective in IED and bomb detection as a canine nose! In addition to this live-saving function, dogs can increase resilience, provide the healing power of touch, a sense of connection, compassion, and comfort. These highly trained canines do something that requires no training at all -- they can love us and remind us of the goodness of life and living!
A Sense of Goodness
One of the most painful aspects of PTSD is the sense of disconnection - from everything that is important, including your basic enthusiasm for living. After severe trauma it is difficult to trust -- anything or anyone -- even yourself. Working with animals in a loving way and learning how to help them heal from stress and trauma quickly elicits the Sense of Goodness. Just saying "Good doggie!" makes you feel the goodness in front of you. Getting a slobbery wet kiss from a dog that was unable to connect because of fear is a very rewarding sensation.
This police officer responded to a call about a "vicious dog." When he arrived, he found the kids were throwing rocks at the dog. He took the dog to the local pound, but couldn't forget about him. A dog with a "bad rap" sheet is in danger in many shelters. According to the United States Humane Society, "Three million cats and dogs are euthanized in shelters each year, approximately 2.4 million (80%) are healthy and treatable and could have been adopted into new homes." Sometimes all they need to become adoptable is the right kind of training. Fortunately, this officer went back and adopted this dog and they have a beautiful, loving life together.
Connecting to the experience of goodness, through helping another creature, leads to finding a spark of goodness within. Building on this tender light leads to the restoration of optimism and hope. These are two essential ingredients for recovering from trauma.
Animals & Resilience
Animals can be our greatest partners in resilience. Whether that be a visit from a therapy dog (Army medical journals say that a patient will talk 50% more to a therapist if a dog is present) -- to companion animals and emotional support animals. But even if you are not able to adopt a dog of your own, learning how to help shelter dogs can do as much for the human as for the animal.
One of the skills we teach humans to teach the dogs is the ability to make eye contact. Eye contact is not a natural thing for all dogs, and especially for ones that have had adverse experiences with humans. We teach "Focus" -- by holding a treat between our eyes -- and the moment the dog makes eye contact, they get a treat. Then we increase how long the dog has to hold the focus, first to a full second, then two, then more. I have asked many happy adopters why did you adopt that dog? And they invariably answer "It was the way he looked at me! I couldn't leave him at the shelter."
This is Bolt. He was so scared he would just shake in his kennel at the shelter. He bit three people, and he was not likely to have a good outcome. He learned to make great eye contact and to trust humans and he was adopted into a loving home.
The notion of eye position as a way to change emotional states is not just true for dogs. Humans need to learn that they can re-direct their focus -- away from what triggers them -- and towards what feels good.
And what feels good is engaging with a dog, and helping him or her to come out of her shell-of-fear. To turn a hopeless case -- into a full-of-hope possibility is a very rewarding experience.
The Human-Animal Connection teaches a six-session course (plus an orientation session) and participants will have supervised experience working with shelter animals. Many dogs will completely turn around in six sessions, although some need more help. Some people who are passionate about this work, or might be interested in becoming a dog trainer, or want more advanced training, will take further classes with The Human-Animal Connection.
An important element in our training is teaching participants the art of neutral and accurate observation of animals' behavior, energy, and mood. We have a ten-point system of evaluating the level of stress an animal is experiencing. By moving students into this "objective" state, they naturally move away from their own triggers, repetitive thoughts, and "pain-habits" and naturally move into the present moment. All of this without any need to discuss the past or personal issues. Loving an animal naturally brings us into present time. And the present moment is where pleasure and renewed enthusiasm for life can be experienced.
Women Warriors is a wonderful organization that helps women veterans get the help they need to get their lives back on track. They are one of our collaborative partners in our Heroes4Animals program and we look forward to the great work we will be doing together. We hope to be partnering with Sol Dog Lodge to teach vocational training in animal care such as grooming, socializing, and training for veterans who seek employment in the 82 Billion dollar pet industry.
The Human-Animal Connection
Here is a two-minute video about The Human-Animal Connection.
We hope you will be inspired to learn more, or volunteer with The Human-Animal Connection. Although we have a specific curriculum, we are flexible and make adjustments to individual needs if possible.
Genie Joseph, PhD
The Human-Animal Connection