Sawyer provides a unique service to mental health patients
The Morning Sun - 6/20/2019
Jun. 19--PITTSBURG -- The Crawford County Mental Health Center has a new "employee."
She stands at about two feet, has blonde fur and loves her belly scratched.
Her name is Sawyer.
Sawyer is a facility dog, and as of Monday she works alongside Clinical Director Amy Glines at the CCMH's Adult Outpatient Mental Health Services clinic.
A facility dog is "skilled at maintaining a calm manner and good social behavior in a variety of environments," according to a pamphlet from the Kansas Specialty Dog Service, through which Sawyer was trained. "They are accustomed to interacting with many different types of people, including those with physical and/or developmental disabilities."
KSDS, located in Washington, Kansas, is a non-profit with assistance from the State of Kansas Department of Rehabilitation Services and additional support from individual donors.
Over the past 25 years, the organization has placed over 575 dogs with individuals and health service providers.
The organization trains three types of dogs: seeing eye or guide dogs, service dogs for people who are physically disabled, and facility dogs like Sawyer.
Each dog goes through two years of training and Sawyer just completed her "education" and is ready to go to work, Glines said.
Facility dogs are placed in counselors offices, in court houses to comfort victims while they are testifying, inside schools and clinics.
KSDS breeds dogs for this purpose, Glines said. Each dog must past health certifications, which the Kansas State University Veterinary School assists with completing.
For two months, Sawyer was in a well being center which is like a nursery for dogs. At two months she went to a training facility which was at Topeka Correctional Facility.
"Women in prison did her training until November," Glines said.
The dogs then go through obedience testing following the training at the correctional facility.
When first trained they do not know what type of service dog they will be yet, the obedience test help place the dogs in each category -- in this case Sawyer's social behavior made her a perfect fit for facility dogs, Glines said.
Glines found out about KSDS four years ago and had to go through an application process which included references, veterinarian reference and a video of home and work. Sawyer does not live at the facility, rather she lives with Glines who is her caretaker.
In September 2015 Glines was notified that she was on a waiting list. The high demand and the two-year training causes the long wait, Glines said.
Glines got the call in May, "Amy, are you ready? We have a dog ready for you," she said
On Sunday, June 9 Glines met Sawyer, who then graduated June 15 following dog training for Glines.
"She was already trained, it was teaching me what they commands are and how to manage her," Glines said.
After waiting three years and five months the long awaited day arrived, Glines was able to bring Sawyer to Pittsburg.
On Monday, Sawyer went straight to work, and has gone into several sessions with Glines.
Sawyer, however, is not the first facility dog for the Crawford County Mental Health. The agency currently has a chocolate lab named Daisy at its Addiction Treatment Center. In fact, the agency has utilized facility dogs for nearly 20 years.
Their first dog was Rosie, who worked at the Addiction Treatment Center until she had to retire. Rosie and Daisy were not trained by KSDS, they were shelter dogs who were given a home which came with a special purpose.
"We have this little journal that the patients who go there can write messages of the impact of our facility dogs over there," she said. "It could bring you to tears, the messages.
"Like, the dog came up to them at just the right time when they were having a bad time and comforted them. I also had somebody else tell me she sat there with me until I was done crying and then went away."
Glines said the dogs provide this "service" mostly out of instinct and exposure.
Having service or facility dogs is not a new concept for clinics and there are several places which have these "pets." For example, Glines' own doctor has cats in her clinic. Dentists often have aquariums and it's not uncommon for facility dogs to visit children's hospitals, Glines said.
"It's well known pets are very positive," she said. "That's why so many of us have them, right? "We love them, we get joy from them. The positive benefit of having an animal facility dog in clinics is well researched."
Glines said she hopes Sawyer gives comfort to her patients at the Adult Outpatient Mental Health Services clinic, just like Rosie and Daisy.
"We are hoping that people aren't as intimidated and that they have something to look forward to," Glines said.
So far, Glines said she's already seen a positive impact on her patients.
"Over and over again people smile," she said.
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