Ryther is now a partner in a research project funded by a grant from PetSmart, along with the University of Washington and Washington State University. The goal of the project is to find innovative ways to make mental health treatment more accessible and enjoyable to unhoused or unstably housed young people. This project will leverage the human’s relationship with their dog to enhance their engagement in mental health treatment and build a rapport between the client and Ryther staff. By offering human and canine services together, the benefit to our clients is twofold; we are reducing barriers to mental health services and the clients’ dogs will learn to respond to commands. While many homeless youth own pets, poorly-behaved pets can pose a large barrier to accessing services, including housing.
This partnership has resulted in the creation of our eight-week Dog Parkour Therapy Group, which will integrate mental health skills such as cognitive behavioral therapy and dialectical behavior therapy coping skills and mindfulness with human participants while they are learning to teach their dogs parkour tricks with an animal behaviorist. While the dogs are trained in standardized dog parkour by a professional animal trainer, the human mental health treatment will mirror these tricks as closely as possible. For example, a dog may be trained to balance on an object; this might be paired with a mini-lesson on using a pro and con list to “balance” between difficult choices. We are excited to expand our services and continue to find creative ways to best serve our clients.