By Landon Kirk | Added April 13
We are frequently asked about our canine program. Common inquiries are, Why dogs and not horses or something else? Will you have other animals? My child has their own dog [or cat] at home, cant we just send that one? Dont canines get in the way of human relationships? Let me take a couple of minutes to highlight our canine program which will answer these common questions. Students struggling with boundaries, self-awareness, emotional hurt, and lack of empathy benefit from caring for animals. Animals which are effective at regulating and healing such issues include horses, chimpanzees, monkeys apes, dolphins, and, you guessed it, canines. Primary reasons we have canines at CALO include: Teachersthere are few coaches, school teachers, or therapists at CALO, amazing as they are, who are able to teach certain lessons as well as the canines. Our goldens are the best teachers to our students about our model. Students know they need to feed, water, and physically care for canines despite how they are feeling in the moment (Trust of Care). Our students also know that if they do not discipline and train their canine they will not be able to attach to or gain the respect of their canine (Trust of Control). Students also find incredible satisfaction in helping their canine reach the point of self-regulation (Trust of Self) without repeated prompts or interventions. Our canines do an amazing job of consistently responding with love in the relationship (Interdependence). These amazing golden retrievers show unconditional love and forgiveness to our students; attacking their negative core beliefs and self-worth. Accessibleunlike horses, monkeys or dolphins, canines are easily accessible during ups and downs. Recently a student left her therapy session and immediately sought out a canine in the milieu and was able to take the canine with her to school. The canine, due to being so easily accessible, provided incredible response time and regulating ability for this young woman. There are numerous other times in which students, thanks to the accessibility and companionship with canines, are able to deepen such relationships. RegulatingIt has actually been proven through research that canines have a calming effect on humans. Humans holding, petting or simply remaining in close proximity to canines are helped with such issues as anxiety, depression, and heart-rate. A parent recently sent us an article about the impact canines are having with war veterans struggling with trauma and PTSD: http://www.nytimes.com/2010/04/04/us/04dogs.html?emc=eta1 DomesticDue to mood regulation, trauma, and attachment being common issues among our students, allowing students to bond with a canine in treatment with an opportunity to leave CALO with their canine prevents feelings of abandonment, rejection, low-self worth, and shame. We love when students are able to finalize their adoption with a canine as ownership of the canine at that point belongs to the student and not CALO. This further provides therapeutic insights and opportunity which are similar to their own experiences. Physicalunlike other animals, golden retrievers are the perfect size to hold, touch, pet, and cuddle with in good times and in bad. Golden retrievers have been known to be perpetual puppies because they are child-like for so longfurther providing a metaphor for students that they, much like their parents and adults do for them, need to discipline and help regulate. Transferable the student-canine relationship provides easy access to the students other relationships, particularly the students relationship with his/her parents or attachment figures. Effective parents, staff and peers are able to highlight similarities -- "I notice you are sometimes passive in caring for your canine. This is how I have felt a at times being around you. "Johnny, at times I have noticed you are a bit to harsh or rough in disciplining your canine. Is there any correlation to how you were treated and how you treat your canine?" "You really seem to know your canine will love you no matter what. Do you know your parents feel the same way about you? These transferable insights are a catalyst for change and remind us how precious and amazing these canines are.
About the Author
Landon Kirk, MSW, LCSW Owner, Co-Founder and CEO
Landon has devoted most of the past 18 years working with families and teens. During graduate school, Landon became immersed in the world of adoption and attachment and this became a personal and professional passion of his. Following the completion of his MSW degree in 2003, Landon began working in an adoption agency where his responsibilities were divided between therapy, birth parent and adoptive couple work. Specifically, Landon worked with birth parents struggling with the option to marry, single-parent, or place their child for adoption and provided counseling and resources to help them make their important decision. An adoptive parent of three children himself, Landon also counseled, approved, and placed prospective adoptive families with children. Landon feels very close to many adoptive parents and the shared issues of infertility, longing to have children, and post-adoption issues. In December of 2005, Landon joined West Ridge Academy as a full-time therapist. Within six months he was promoted as the Campus Administrator allowing him to lead all residential employees towards effective treatment practices. In January of 2007, Landon was hired as the Clinical Director and Chief Operations Officer (COO) for CALO. In May of 2012 Landon moved into the role of Chief Clinical Officer (CCO). This position permits Landon to lead CALO Directors and employees responsible for the care and treatment of students in Residential, Recreation Therapy, Canine, Academics, Nursing and Clinical towards cohesiveness and clinical integrity. Landon is originally from Jacksonville, Florida and enjoys many sports and outdoor recreation including football, tennis, basketball, golf, camping, hiking, and fly-fishing. Top on his list of interests is spending time with his wife Jill and their three children (Tanner, Kambrie, and Bryelle). The Kirk's reside in Osage Beach, Missouri.