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Therapy dog fills new role for drug treatment center

Staff report

CenterPoint Recovery Center for Men, a six-month, residential drug treatment facility in Paducah, knows the importance of a social support system in early recovery.

The center recently added a new kind of support when "Sami" joined the staff. Sami is young, has brown hair, is a good listener and full of energy. She has already proven to be a huge asset to the facility and its clients.

The fact that Sami walks on four legs instead of two makes her no less valuable. After rescuing her from the local pound, she has wagged her tail into the hearts of staff and residents alike.

Thelma Hunter, CenterPoint director, said, "Sami helps residents learn the values of service, empathy, teamwork, trust, self-expression, cooperation and communication."

Amid the difficult work of addiction recovery, dogs like Sami can offer a non-judgmental ear and frequent opportunities to laugh and release tension.

"The natural bond that develops between people and dogs can be particularly therapeutic for clients who are treatment-resistant or who have struggled opening up or making connections in past treatment programs," Hunter said.

Research studies have documented the therapeutic effects domestic animals have on human recovery. When someone who suffers from an acute or chronic illness is placed with a therapy pet, they can experience benefits like lower stress levels, diminished anxiety and depression, lower blood pressure, higher self-esteem, and even in some cases, a reduction in severity of physical pain.

Although Sami has no formal therapy dog training (specially trained dogs can cost thousands of dollars) her ability to connect with clients has been noteworthy.

CenterPoint's animal-assisted addiction treatment therapy focuses on two main goals: building nurturing relationships and reassuming adult responsibility.

Jordan Tinnell has been a CenterPoint resident for the last six weeks. He formed a bond with Sami almost the moment she walked in the door.

"She's awesome! There is no better word. She has helped me a lot in my recovery. Her ability to balance out stress and take my mind off my problems has gotten me through some tough times already," he said.

"Not only is Sami a great listener, she helps me relax and has even taught me some responsibility. She has to be fed, and walked and brushed every day. Before I came to CenterPoint I really didn't even know what it meant to be responsible. Sami has shown me," he added.

Hunter said having Sami also adds to the home-like environment at CenterPoint.

"Many of our clients were homeless or had a home life that was full of drugs and even violence. For a lot of residents, CenterPoint is the only home they have ever had," Hunter said.

CenterPoint is managed by Four Rivers Behavioral Health.

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