If you have been following Susquehanna Bank’s Dog Days of Summer campaign, you have seen the smiling face of a young lady who knows first-hand how a therapy dog can add fun and motivation to even the most challenging therapy sessions.
Sixteen-year-old Melissa was born with cerebral palsy, and began receiving therapy when she was only four months old. At the age of eight, after undergoing leg muscle surgery, Melissa was attending therapy three days a week at the Schreiber Pediatric Rehab Center.
During those days of intense therapy, Melissa met “Sammy,” a lovable golden retriever therapy dog from KPETS (Keystone Pet Enhanced Therapy Services). KPETS, based in Lancaster County, is a network of more than 300 trained and registered volunteer teams which provide the healing benefits of the human/animal bond to the community. Each year, KPETS volunteers make thousands of visits to health-related facilities, social agencies, special-needs programs, schools, libraries, retirement communities, hospices – wherever the human/animal connection can help.
With help from Sammy and other KPETS dogs, Melissa has learned to stand by herself, balance, walk and throw a ball more easily. She can even work on her ab muscles and get a kiss at the top of every sit up!
Melissa wants everyone to know this about cerebral palsy: “People look at you differently when you have CP. Even though I look different on the outside, I’m the same on the inside.”
Some of Melissa’s favorite hobbies include swimming and archery, and this summer she’s going to try rock climbing for the first time. Like most 16 year olds, she’s addicted to her iPod and may get into the occasional spat with her younger brother.
The following are excerpts from a journal written by Diane, owner of “Chester,” one of Melissa’s therapy buddies from KPETS.
“Melissa Days” at Schreiber Pediatric rank right up there at the very tippy top of our favorite things to do. Last Tuesday was no egg-ception.
For therapy time today, Chester and Melissa had an Easter Egg Hunt — just the two of them. Chester brought eggs filled with candy for Melissa ~ Melissa brought eggs filled with PEANUT BUTTER GIRL SCOUT COOKIES for Chester. His very favorite snack on planet earth.
We scattered the eggs. Melissa bent down to reach for hers & saved the candy for the ride home. Chester, on the other hand, sniffed out his eggs stuffed with cookie treats, cracked them open, and scarfed them on the spot. Best hunt ever.
Who ever knew Animal assisted therapy could be so delicious & dog gone egg-citing?
Yesterday, Melissa tried a new strengthening/stretching exercise position, making a bridge for Chester to jump over or go under. Melissa chose OVER for Chester. I commanded Chester O-VER. Not a problem. He sailed over Melissa’s amazing bridge position, with room to spare.
And then….this is very cool. Melissa walked down the hallway, the entire hallway, with no crutches to support her, only the railing & Chester’s leash. There are two places on the hallway where Melissa has to pass by open doorways, nothing to hold on to. No railing, no crutch, nothing. Just air…..and Chester.
Melissa’s therapist said that Melissa made her best steps ever. We all cheered, but Chester stayed focused, steady by his Melissa’s side. The therapist went on to say she felt Melissa’s huge success was because her focus was on walking her golden friend not on herself, or the fear and anxiety that come with nothing to hold on to.
Makes me cry happy tears. Good therapy for us all.