A cohort to encourage, the healing strength in the human-animal bond: An Interview with Ms. Heddie Leger
The strong bond between humans and animals can have a vital impact on an individual’s well-being and become the center of a ripple effect of positive change for both the human and animal. This bond is vital and Ms. Heddie Leger is one advocate behind the importance of developing the human-animal bond and the healing properties it can bring. She kindly shared the scope of her work and her thoughts pertaining to the human-animal bond in an interview with HABRI Central.
Ms. Leger primarily seeks to educate others. She is the founder of PawZone, a networking organization that helps provide resources to dog and pet owners, and is involved in many programs through that organization. She further serves as a member of HABRI Central’s Management Advisory Board, and helps to set up and advise programs pertaining to HABRI Central’s site.
Animals have played a significant role in Ms. Leger’s life since her early childhood. She named them as being a “sanctuary of calm” that helped her work through difficult times. This bond carried over into her adult life and led her to begin working in training therapy dogs for herself and others. She and her Rottweiler therapy dog, Hero, worked together and received positive feedback for the help they gave and the training she provided. Ms. Leger credits those interactions with people as inspiration to found PawZone.
Ms. Leger created PawZone as a means to educate others about the human-animal bond. PawZone is a small organization with a large outreaching network. Ms. Leger likes to think of PawZone as a mentor-based organization that offers resources to help in various capacities. PawZone offers pet sitting, dog training consultations, AAI instruction for dogs to work in local hospitals, and is open to requests for other services (such as more developed training, agility, scent training, and therapy animal evaluation). PawZone is also involved in several community outreach programs such as, Animals in the Classroom, and Puppies for Parole.
Animals in the Classroom was one of Ms. Leger’s earlier programs that was started when she saw the potential therapy dogs could bring to children in a classroom setting. She worked in the Media Sciences department and was instrumental in pioneering a program where dogs were brought into the classroom. This program has grown throughout the community and now is regularly serviced in five different school buildings. The animals and children participate in reading education, therapy, and observational research. Ms. Leger has found that the animal interactions make students more focused and motivated, and she hopes educators continue to see the benefit of animal interactions.
PawZone’s largest program is Puppies for Parole. Ms. Leger is proud of this program and believes there is a high potential for further development. This program consistently has 80+ participants in it, and is a program for offenders currently in correctional facilities. Offenders learn how to train shelter dogs and personally work with an individual dog to make them more adoptable and sociable. Ms. Leger notes how this program is beneficial to both the dog and the human because a bond is formed between human and dog, and they are able to help each other. The dogs are exposed to higher levels of socialization then what they may otherwise receive in shelters, and an offender is exposed to a more positive environment by being given responsibility for an animal. Ms. Leger points out that the bond formed between the inmates and their dogs have a strong impact that is a source of therapy for them that provides a sense of comfort and well-being.
Ms. Leger strongly believes that dogs can be therapeutic no matter if they are certified or not. She speaks to the Puppies for Parole program as an example. The dogs used for the program are not therapy dogs, and in fact are in most cases abandoned shelter dogs. Her experience with this program has led her to believe it is impossible to measure the level of therapy influence brought on in personal interactions. She observes dogs making connections and providing varying levels of therapy no matter their training. She attributes this belief to the strength of the human-animal bond and the personal interactions held between human and dog. Ms. Leger believes that animals know they are here to help and have more to offer than we recognize.
Ms. Leger is passionate about the work happening with the human-animal bond, and hopes, in the future, a more professional image can be created in the field. Currently, many practitioners in the field are voluntary and animal therapy is not yet universally recognized as a viable professional therapy program. She definitely sees the field moving in the right direction, but looks forward to a time where animals are routinely used by social workers, psychologists, and emergency personnel.
When asked about a rewarding aspect of her work Ms. Leger replied, “Seeing people overcome obstacles of mental, emotional or physical limitations through interactions with animals. Seeing people heal in ways not even medical practitioners thought were possible.” In her experience she has observed changes that come over an individual in the presence of an animal and is of the firm belief that healing can tangibly be seen in these interactions. An example of such a moment for her occurred at a hospice center where she brought Hero (her therapy dog) in for therapy. She sat with an unresponsive patient and introduced the patient to Hero. After being warned by the medical staff that the patient would be unlikely to respond, the patient surprised everyone by interacting with Hero.
Ms. Leger, currently, is involved with several projects that aim to expand the use of animals as a form of therapy. She is working to develop a network between hospitals and nursing homes so that patients receiving animal therapy in a hospital can seamlessly continue that therapy despite being moved to a new location. She also hopes to create a program that allows patients’ personal pets to come in to visit.
Furthermore, she is hoping to expand the Puppies for Parole program to other correctional systems. “This program has changed many lives both human and animal. It is the epitome of a rehabilitation program for both humans and animals. I would love to start a registry for any dog that has graduated from a Prison Dog Program to designate the high level of training and socialization they have received.”
Ms. Leger values the work in the human-animal bond and strives to be a helpful resource for any aspect of that bond. She defines herself as specialized, but not exclusive. She focuses on the human-animal bond, but that in itself encompasses so much and moves in various specifications. She strives to encourage others and provide resources to support others in communicating and training their pets.
Ms. Leger can be contacted at firstname.lastname@example.org