Spectrum Health Systems

Therapy dogs help clients at New England Recovery Center stay positive

Published On: November 15th, 2022Categories: In The News

Spectrum News 1

Date: 11/14/22

WESTBOROUGH, Mass. – For people battling addiction, the road to recovery can be challenging. At New England Recovery Center in Westborough, a recently-added program is helping clients stay positive with a little help from man’s best friend.

What You Need To Know

  • Tufts Paws for People is helping people battling addiction by providing companionship
  • People we spoke with said it’s a nice change of pace from the hard work of recovery
  • Therapy dogs can lessen depression and decrease feelings of isolation
  • The dogs’ owners are volunteers who say they just want to help out people who need it

Tufts Paws for People is a nonprofit organization that connects volunteers and their dogs with people who could benefit from the companionship. Locations include nursing homes, schools, children’s hospitals and recovery centers.

Conor O’Reilly has been in residential treatment at New England Recovery Center for 5 weeks, and prior to that, he spent six days in detox. He said the canine visitors offer a nice change of pace from the hard work that goes into his recovery.

“I have a dog at home that I miss very much, so to have the dogs visit has just been a great experience,” O’Reilly said.

People struggling with drug or alcohol addiction are often fighting a battle on two fronts – the physical toll of substance abuse and the PTSD, anxiety, or depression that comes with it.

“I haven’t seen more smiles in a room than when they come in,” said Dalton Richards, who has been undergoing treatment at NERC for 3 weeks. “The dogs are very well-trained, the owners are awesome, and it’s just great to sit there with them, roll the ball around a little bit, you get to feed them treats.”

On Saturday, NERC was visited by two dogs and their owners. Celia Brown and her 9 year-old ‘Mr. Bojangles’ are all too happy to volunteer their time to spread some love.

“I’m a teacher, I’m now retired, I’ve been doing this awhile,” Brown said. “We’ve had mental health issues in our family, and I know that distraction and pups can make a big difference.”

Catherine VanLancker, meanwhile, has been volunteering with her dog Bear since 2017.

“I love it, it’s so great to be able to volunteer and bring this guy who is just so loving and happy and make these peoples’ weekend feel better,” VanLancker said.

Staff members say the program has been a positive force for clients – they’re smiling more and talking with each other more often.

“Dogs come through the door like Bear or Mr. Bojangles and we get a smile,” said Gretchen Zichelle, a recovery specialist. “Sometimes I’m thinking to myself ‘This is probably the first time they’ve smiled in maybe months!”

According to Paws for People, spending some quality time with a therapy dog can lessen depression, decrease feelings of isolation, encourage communication, provide comfort and a sense of community, and even spark motivation.

For those on the path to recovery, it’s been a reason to keep their head up. They hope others out there who are struggling can find the strength to do the same.

“For recovery, stick it out,” Richards said. “There’s plenty of different ways to help you along the way, and there’s always a big community there for you. Whether it’s the people you meet here or out in AA, NA, whatever it may be, there’s always people who understand.”

“Every day is a new day and it’s the start of something, so you go from there,” said Jorge Palacios. “Recovery is one day at a time, so I’ve learned that. I’ve been here almost three weeks and I’m hoping to go to sober living soon.”

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