“When I needed a hand, I found your paw.”

There are a few things that can help open up troubled souls, one of them being a calm, friendly, attentive dog – especially if they’re cute.

Hazelbrook therapist Lara Cook, and her super-cute, qualified therapy pooch Maple, work together comforting the downtrodden and injured.

Lara said the impact the hypoallergenic dog has had on her work, and on clients is astounding.

“Maple is the icebreaker, and there is no bias or judgment with her, so clients open up easier,” she said. “I bring her along, and she hugs, sits with and plays, and is in tune with if she needs to be calm or playful.”

The pair works with a range of client ages and necessities, including those with injuries, autism and mental health challenges.

One client suffering from quite complex mental health conditions had refused to communicate with other therapists.

“She ended up conversing with Maple and me in just a couple of sessions, which nobody could do before,” Lara said.

Maple also made super inroads after an activity with a young autistic boy. When Lara asked him to construct an obstacle course for the dog to pass through, he made quite a complex one that even stumped the smart Maple.

After discussions with Lara about what happened, he realized he had overwhelmed the dog with too many hurdles. Which in turn helped him see how he feels the same emotions in some everyday life situations.

“He was then able to take steps to communicate with his parents about his emotions, to tell them when he had had enough of a certain activity, before things escalated,” Lara said.

Besides her trusty sidekick, Lara also enlists horses for therapy in conjunction with Sydney Equine Assisted Learning, who carry out psychotherapy using horses to assist humans with the likes of depression, anxiety, post-traumatic stress, and those with intellectual and physical disabilities.

Sessions are held at Blaxland Ridge with Lara as the qualified mental health professional, a qualified equine specialist, and the horses, working as a team with the client at all times.

So, if it’s a course with a horse we need, or some puppy love, Maple and me could be an open door, and path forward for those everyday life hiccups we face.

Horses are a lot like us, they socialize with their own kind, and have distinct personalities, moods and attitudes. Approaching an intimidating large horse in these sessions can help us examine the way we approach our relationships, and other big challenges in our lives.

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