BY ARIELLE KRAUS
Mental health has become a very important topic in today’s society. It is not unusual to see therapy dogs out in public, working with those in need. However, it is not so common to see a therapy pig providing individuals with emotional support. Junior Emily Aaron has both of these pets and has trained them, alongside her mother, to work with those who need them most.
Lulu, Emily Aaron’s three-legged greyhound, has been a therapy dog for the past five years. She suffered an abusive past, but overcame these obstacles to become the courageous and caring dog she is today.
“I adopted Lulu myself and then I taught her commands like stay, come here and go over there,” Emily Aaron said. “We had to make sure that she was okay in a hospital setting or a school setting, because we take her to many different places, so I just had to practice with her and make sure she felt very comfortable in those situations.”
Emily Aaron is part of the organization Canine Assisted Therapy Inc. (CAT) where she and Lulu have gone to a variety of places to help those in need. Following the tragedy that occurred at Marjory Stoneman Douglas (MSD) High School in February 2018, Emily Aaron and Lulu headed to the school to provide support for all students affected by this horrific event.
“Patches definitely brings smiles to everyone he is around.”
“CAT reached out to us and asked for dogs, and at first, I was kind of nervous because [a tragedy] just happened at that school,” Emily Aaron said. “It was overwhelming [at the beginning], because we would just go to any room that had someone who had been through something, watched someone die or was in the building. It [was] like a family because you would see the same group over and over again, so it became such a nice environment for everybody.”
Emily Aaron does not work with Lulu alone. Her mother, Tiffany Aaron, accompanies her and Lulu as Emily is under the legal age to volunteer alone. In addition to Lulu, they have a pet pig, Patches, who is also a certified therapy animal. Patches was trained by Mrs. Aaron and has also been to MSD.
“I decided to train Patches to be a therapy pig after watching Emily and Lulu bring such happiness to the people they would come in contact with,” Mrs. Aaron said. “Patches definitely brings smiles to everyone he is around. The countless selfies and piggy kisses have helped so many forget the pain they are feeling and help them heal.”
The impact an animal can have on an individual is remarkable. The presence of both Patches and Lulu can and has truly made a difference in the lives of many. Patches, specifically, has made one MSD student want to come to school to spend time with him.
“There is one particular student who has had a very difficult time leaving her home and socializing after the events at MSD,” Mrs. Aaron said. “When she knows she will see Patches, she has something to look forward to. Her mom is so thankful because she said it’s difficult watching her daughter struggle every single day, and to see her smile and look forward to something makes them so thankful.”
“Not only does pet therapy benefit humans, but [it] also is beneficial for dogs.”
Many times, individuals can be confused by the difference between a service animal and a therapy animal. Both Lulu and Patches are therapy animals, meaning they are trained to interact with a variety of individuals in need. Service animals are only trained to work with one individual and tend to their needs specifically.
“Dogs have an inherent desire to work and to please. They enjoy having a job,” Executive Director/CEO of CAT Courtney Ford Trzcinski said. said. “When it is time to put on their therapy vest and go to visit a hospital, they become excited and happy. Not only does pet therapy benefit humans, but [it] also is beneficial for dogs. When a human pets a dog, the levels of ‘feel-good’ hormones in dogs rise, just as they do when a human spends time with a dog. So it is a win-win situation for all.”
Helping others through animal therapy is a passion of Emily Aaron’s that truly brings her joy. Lulu and Patches have become a significant part of many individuals’ lives and have made those who suffer from mental illness feel better, even if it is just for a moment.
“I am not just doing it for service hours or to look good, I genuinely am doing it because it’s what’s in my heart and I love it,” Emily Aaron said.
Check out Cowboy Televison’s feature on Emily Aaron here.
Photo by Anabella Garcia