Please Bear With Me—Working With My Canine Co-Therapist

Janus Moncur

Janus Moncur LCSW, CCTP, CHAIS, is a licensed clinical social worker, working on her PhD in social work. She specializes in trauma and canine-assisted therapy and is a certified clinical trauma professional (CCTP), compassion fatigue professional (CCFP), and, human animal intervention specialist (CHAIS). Janus volunteers as an instructor and handler with her own canine partners in disaster/crisis situations for National Crisis Response Canines.

Being raised in Inkster, Michigan, as an only child by a single mother, and then moving to Big Rapids, Michigan, at the age of 8 with Mom and my new stepdad, I was lucky to meet my best-friend, Heidi, that same year. Heidi, her family, and her home at the Circle W Ranch allowed me to become immersed into the amazing magic of animals. My mother astutely permitted me to spend as much time as possible with Heidi and the Ranch, and I am certain that my sanity' and stability' come from that escape. Learning responsibility and hard work that comes with caring for animals and receiving the rewards of love and unconditional acceptance is something I wish all children could experience in their lives. This experience guided the rest of my life and increased my love of animals.

My early college years included business school as I did not believe I could handle the science and math requirements involved in becoming a veterinarian. My career life was a corporate life, filled with brokerage firms, property' management and real estate companies. I never felt happy or satisfied but rather, that I was chasing money. The real estate/mortgage crash of 2008 coupled with the medical emergency of my significant other (S.O.) required me to re-evaluate my whole life.

During my time as caregiver for my S.O., Denny, I witnessed the miracle of the power of puppy love, literally. I moved into Denny’s home with my two old rescue dogs and proceeded to attempt to navigate the world of transplant medicine and being the girlfriend to a man with four teenage kids and an ex-wife. During the madness, the youngest daughter coaxed her father into buying a tiny' Pomeranian puppy from a reputable breeder, so Jack was added to the mix.

I had a variety of dogs with me during the entire time Denny and I had known each other, but he was convinced he was allergic to dogs and never touched any of them. It was not that he did not like my dogs, but he had never bonded with a dog. The first night that Jack was brought home, he ignored his young mistress as she went off to bed and instead, sat at Dennys feet and demanded to be picked up. From that moment on, Denny and Jack became inseparable and it was apparent to all that Jack was now Daddy’s dog.

Through that journey of relocating to Indianapolis for 14 months, from our sunny home in Florida, Jack was my partner. He was the only being that could wake the irritable sickly man and was the only being that could make him smile and laugh. I believe that without Jack, Denny’s outcome could have been much different.

Shortly after the successful transplant, and with Jack’s approval, another Pomeranian puppy came into our pack. Mack. Jack and Mack teamed up to become a powerhouse as we trained and became certified through Canine-Assisted Therapy, Inc. At the same time, I had returned to school to obtain my master of social work degree. It did not dawn on me until one of my professors, Dr. Janet Courtney, pointed out that I was already doing therapy work with the help of my dogs.

Today, I am a licensed clinical social worker in private practice and am known best for my work in trauma and work with my canine co-therapists. Today I work with a four-year-old keeshond named Pandora’s Peter Bear. Bear’s mother was rescued and gave birth to him the day after she was saved and now he works as my canine co-therapist after gaining his certificates. Most of my clients are adults who have suffered with addiction problems and/or trauma, although we have worked with children and adolescents as well. I conduct group therapy and work one-on-one with clients. My canine co-therapist and I travel to different facilities about 30 hours a week. I see clients in my private office and via teleconferencing. I love the positive energy that is ignited when clients see my canine partner. I get to hear greetings of “Bear! Bear! It’s Bear! Hi, Bear!” Suddenly the prospect of going to group becomes happy anticipation. I am most rewarded when witnessing the wisdom of my canine partner as he hones in on clients who are struggling. The look of amazement and appreciation from the client and other group members is always heartwarming and revalidating as my partner sits with the struggling client.

My greatest challenge has been to help other health care providers and agencies embrace the “power of the pooch”. Although the practice is more mainstream today, there is still so much unawareness and therefore, hesitancy by decision makers to allow canines into many facilities and centers. Yet, I feel this can be overcome with a great deal of patience and educating on the part of the practitioner. My advice about attempting to work in these facilities is to not take rejection personally for yourself or your dog(s). My most important piece of advice is to continue to learn and grow as a partner with your dog. Continue your education about the human/animal bond and continue to train and expose your partner to various situations that might be encountered. But most of all, become attuned to your canine’s language, stress signals, and needs, just as you need to become aware of your own stress signals that transmit easily to your canine. Take care of each other, advocate for your partner, and do not take your partner for granted.

I am not sure that most people would have considered my 2008 as a positive situation, but it was for me. Being in the position to close my real estate business and take care of my favorite person, and the opportunities and life lessons that appeared because of all these events served as the catalyst for the truly amazing and happy life I live today.

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