Desi, a Greyhound that formerly competed at a racetrack in Memphis, Tenn., before Scruggs adopted her, is used for animal-assisted therapy, a subject she discussed Monday during her presentation at a meeting of the Jasper Kiwanis Club.
Wheeler-Scruggs, who is now the children’s day treatment coordinator for the Adam Bishop Center, brought Desi along with her when she was the guest speaker at the organization’s weekly meeting.
The Adam Bishop Center is a treatment center for children that is part of the Northwest Alabama Mental Health Center which provides services to Fayette, Lamar, Marion, Walker and Winston Counties.
Wheeler-Scruggs, who grew up in Jasper and graduated from Walker High School, first began using Desi in the workplace when she was employed by the Arkansas School for the Deaf. She also used her dog and other pets in the private practice she had before returning to her hometown.
“One of the things that animal-assisted therapy does is it incorporates in a strategic manner the relationships between humans and animals,” Wheeler-Scruggs said. “For all of you who have a pet, you know what kind of connection and calm they can bring to you, no matter what’s going on in your life.”
This, she said, is why animals like Desi can be so useful in helping clients become more relaxed, which in turn allows them to open up to mental health professionals.
Wheeler-Scruggs added that clients’ interaction with animals can also be used as a teaching mechanism.
Wheeler-Scruggs talked about a boy she worked with once who refused to engage in the therapeutic process until he met Desi. “You could see a physical, visible change in his affect when he was with her and through that process he was then able to express a lot more to me than he ever had without her,” she said.
Before using the technique, Wheeler-Scruggs said it is important to make sure clients have not had any previous trauma that resulted from animals. Also, she said it is important to make sure the clients are not allergic to animals.
Also, she said animal-assisted therapy is a process. “It’s not a one-time thing.”
Wheeler-Scruggs said when she takes Desi to the Adam Bishop Center “it provides them with a real sense of accomplishment when she actually does what they say — which can be more often than when I tell her,” she said.