Last month, Beatrice Bowlby, a senior at Park Tudor and part of the Global Scholars Program, presented her study regarding the research question, “Can animal assisted therapy, with an emphasis on inter-special empathy, play a valuable role in the treatment of psychological and physical disorders?” Below is the essay she wrote in response to that study.
At 12 inches tall and 24 inches long, Kipling does not look like your average therapist. In fact, he looks more like a loaf of bread. But I suppose at seventeen and a half I don’t really look like a therapist either. In my eighth grade English class we were taught the difference between sympathy and empathy, and since then I have attempted to define them on my own, striving for the noumenal moment that manifests itself through empathizing with another being. It was not until I found Paws & Think that I truly understood the definition of empathy. In his therapeutic role, Kipling serves as the medium for the conversations I have. His stubby legs, long back, and big ears are characteristic of a Pembroke Welsh Corgi, and they have facilitated my ability to provide comfort and happiness to people from all walks of life.
The creative writer in me is fascinated by the complexity of character and the creation of dynamic personalities with only words, searching for a connection beneath a pile of diction and syntax. I am moved by the stories I hear in the nursing homes and the grief of the little girl who tragically lost her father. Listening has always been a strength of mine. In kindergarten, I was taught to listen because that is the respectful thing to do. As I got older, I discovered that listening isn’t only respectful, but it instills a sense of trust and understanding in and for another.
The visits to Hoosier Village and Camp Healing Tree force me to step outside my immediate circles of school, family, and friends into a community that I would not know if I had not trained Kipling to become a therapy dog. As one of Paws & Think’s youngest volunteers, I have become a familiar face. The other volunteers may know me as the young English girl with the corgi, and I can’t say that that identification is any different in other aspects of my life. After all, my voice became an amalgamation of English and American before I could even call myself a citizen, stretching between one culture and another until the Atlantic felt more like an ocean and less like a pond.
From volunteer to intern, I have immersed myself in an organization in which I believe, spending time communicating with people and managing the donor database. The work is challenging and emotionally intense, but I am constantly amazed by the support and sense of fulfillment that I get from being part of the Paws & Think community. As an intern, I find myself in my element as my academic work ethic takes over, and thank you letters to donors are written, printed, enveloped, and sent with the greatest care. As a volunteer, I have realized that the time spent with the elderly woman in the wheelchair as she talks slowly about coming to America as a small child and the moments spent listening to little girls finally talk about emotions that kids their age should not know how to feel are the real reasons I love my work with Paws & Think.
Kipling aids in my ability to walk alongside another as they tell me of a journey that forced them to grapple with confusion, pain, and ultimately strength. I cannot say that I have endured what many of the people I talk to have, but I can say that I know what it is to be a sister and a daughter, a 10 year old girl, a friend, and a listener. Now I am able to define empathy for myself: to mirror the vulnerability of another as they tell an honest story.