Empathy is one of the strongest tools a therapist can use in connecting to those who have been abused. It takes a special kind of soul to truly understand what others have gone through.
From the scars on his face, it’s clear that Patriot, a 5-year-old Siberian husky, understands abuse all too well, but it’s also what makes him uniquely qualified to connect with those who have suffered the same.
At just 4 months old, Patriot was found with extensive injuries to his snout, caused by someone wrapping metal wire tightly around his face, the Dodo reports. He needed surgery on his muzzle, which had become infected.
“He was underweight and scrawny and appeared to be malnourished,” Kevin Marlin, program director for Pets Are Wonderful Support (PAWS) and PAWS Assist the Needs of the District Attorney (PANDA) therapy programs for the OCSPCA told the Dodo.
“Emotionally, he seemed understandably withdrawn and reclusive but not at all aggressive,” Marlin recalled. “If you didn’t know he had been abused, one might think he was just shy and antisocial. He just didn’t seem to enjoy the company of humans.”
It took time before Patriot was able to trust again and feel comfortable around people.
“Each dog takes with him or her a bag packed full of memories and history—some good and some bad,” Marlin said. “In Patriot’s case, his baggage included someone who wanted to dominate and overpower him, in a cruel effort to make him miserable or even kill him.”
Marlin started with small steps, such as approaching Patriot with peanut butter on his fingers and letting the dog lick his hands. Collars were a challenge. It took a year before Patriot stopped chewing them up, Marlin recalled.
But persistence and compassion paid off. Today Patriot is comfortable and happy to be around humans, surpassing every expectation Marlin had of simply improving the dog’s temperament.
He now works with children who’ve suffered physical and sexual abuse, helping them speak during court proceedings.
“Patriot’s work with abuse victims stems from his understanding and empathy with other victims,” Marlin says. “He seems to have a way of understanding their pain and helps them to see that there is life and love after abuse. The victims can easily identify with him and recognize his scars as having been from abuse.”
There is sadly more than one case in which Patriot has been called in to work with a victim of abuse, but each experience is made visibly easier for the children. Marlin told the Dodo of one in particular.
“He worked his way [over to] her, until he finally nudged her with his nose,” he said. “The young girl wrapped her arms around him as the tears rolled down her face, and the two made a connection on a spiritual level. At the end of the meeting, she had left the room, only to return a few moments later, where she came back to Patriot and hugged him again, having a hard time leaving him behind.”
Patriot also helps as a comforting companion in retirement homes, hospice care, children’s foster and group homes, and brain trauma units, as well as children’s special needs classes and domestic violence shelters.
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Matthew Russell is a West Michigan native and with a background in journalism, data analysis, cartography and design thinking. He likes to learn new things and solve old problems whenever possible, and enjoys bicycling, going to the dog park, spending time with his daughter, and coffee.
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