Whitby wins hearts and heals hurts!

Whitby wins hearts and heals hurts!

                  Judith Coche, Ph.D.

                        Paw Prints Article



“Mommy, I want to go to Whitby’s house” said 3 year old Cathy excitedly as she and her Sister entered the waiting room of The Psychology Practice.  And sure enough, as if on cue, the floppy-eared charmer with the teddy bear eyes appeared and, on cue from Dr. Judith Coche, lay in front of Cathy’s feet so that she could snuggle with him on the soft woolen rug.  


“It is time for his treats,” Dr. Coche reported, as she gave each of the girls a small biscuit for Whitby’s afternoon snack. Big smiles followed on the faces of the tiny, and the not so tiny sister.  “Shake, Whitby” said Amanda, as she showed him the reward that awaited his obedience. Whitby raised a white-socked black leg and Amanda took the soft, wavy hair into her hand and shook and stroked Whitby, as she prepared for her therapy session. An observer would have had difficulty deciding who was having the most fun in this animal-human trio, but the girls’ Mom beamed in appreciation as Whitby provided the warm up for a tricky and sensitive session between Mother and older daughter.


Whitby Anderson, Canine Good Citizen and well trained Assistance Dog, has been a working partner in this practice since he was six months old.   “My clinical assistant has four paws” Dr. Coche often says as she tells others of the work they do together.” He is in one of the two offices daily. He loves the liveliness of the city and, of course, he loves the practice at the beach in Stone Harbor. In fact, when he is not at work,  I am in BIG trouble…everyone asks for him and teases me about reducing the hourly rate when I work without my partner.”


It is easy to see why clients love this beastie, and why folks stop on the street to say hello.  Whitby has the soft wavy hair of the Portuguese Water Dog,. Combine this with a teddy bear face, prancing gait, and gentle disposition, and it is easy to see why he wins hearts so quickly.  “He is actually quite mischievous and athletic, “Dr. Coche continues, “but he has learned office etiquette and does his job flawlessly.”


But just what IS Whitby’s job description, one might ask.  Just exactly what can a dog do to help with psychotherapy and adult education? “LOTS!” proclaims Dr. Coche. Here are a three ways Whitby contributes to the care of the clients he learns to know:


  1. MEETING AND GREETING.   Many people are understandably a little nervous the first time they enter the office of a Psychologist, and Whitby is our official meter and greeter. He prances over to new folks, gently sits in front of them, and waits politely to say “Hello.” Because he is so gentle, he is hard to resist. Touching a soft wavy body of hair is a bog dose of comfort for new children and adults. He makes a scary first appointment into a pleasant wait .

  2. SAYING A FRIENDLY GOODBYE.  At the end of the session, Whitby is often “resting” on his bed or at the feet of the clients.  But when Dr. Coche says, “Whitby, time to say goodbye”, he gets up, stretches his looong catlike stretch, and trots happily to the waiting room near the door. So children and adults both take their cue. Whitby sits in front of them, and looks soulfully at them as if to say, “Be well. See you soon, I hope.” And another session ends in a peaceful and gentle manner

  3. COMFORTING THE HURT.  Sometimes clients have to talk about things that really hurt them to remember, and sometimes they cry. Often, Whitby’s heart goes out to them, and he becomes concerned that they are upset. He gets up from his place, walks slowly to their knee, and extends a paw gently but firmly to get them to pet him.  Without even thinking about it, most clients take his paw, then begin stroking his back as he stays quietly at their knee.  Often, the gentle company of the beastie who cares so much, softens the hurt. Sometimes they are so surprised that he cared enough to come over to them, that they stop crying and start smiling and talking about how amazing it is to have a dog notice.  “He really understands my heart, “ a 15 year old boy said. “I wish he could talk to my Dad!”


Whitby is special, but so are the thousands of other dogs and cats that minister to the hearts of those they serve. Serving others makes their lives rich and full.  That is why, if you listen really carefully, you can almost hear Whitby say under his breath, “I HAVE THE BEST JOB IN THE WORLD!” 



Credit: Dr. Judith Coche volunteers her time to share her experiences in therapy dog work with the public. She is a Clinical Psychologist in Philadelphia and Cape May County who recognized the power of animals as therapeutic agents in 1988. She is active in training colleagues and others to use their dogs to heal.



Norris Clark