Our Work: Canine Assisted Intervention

Cross' story

Eleven years ago, Steve and Rhonda Murphy became the proud handlers of a German Shepherd puppy named Cross. During his youth, they trained Cross in everything from obedience, search, agility, and protection, but it was in the therapy setting where Cross’ talents stood out.

As a part of what was then known as pet therapy, the program coordinator at Rogers Behavioral Health reached out to Steve and Rhonda to see if they would be willing to bring Cross to the Oconomowoc, Wis., campus for one hour per week to work with a group of children. Soon, stories about how these young patients benefited from Cross’ interactions began to emerge. Some therapists noticed that the children were able to calm down and focus more on treatment. Others saw their patients participate more and develop self-confidence as they commanded the dog to complete tasks.

Seeing the benefits, Cross was asked to attend teen and adult group sessions as well as individual sessions when the therapist felt his abilities could be a benefit for a specific patient. Toward the end of his five years of service, Cross could be seen on campus doing what he loved most for at least one- to-two hours a day, five-to-six days a week.

When Cross passed away in December of 2020, it
raised the question of how to continue the work Cross started. Rogers’ leadership, along with Steve and Rhonda, determined the path forward would be to expand the program into a more formalized and clinically integrated Canine Assisted Intervention (CAI) program.

A vision for canine integration into specialized care

Any dog lover can tell you that dogs have qualities to help people feel better.

Cross, a caring canine, led the way in demonstrating the value of what was formerly known as pet therapy at Rogers. Today, with thanks to Cross’ intuitive nature for helping others, the program has been re-imagined into our Canine Assisted Intervention (CAI) program. 

The mere presence of the animal—its spontaneous behaviors, and opportunities for interaction—are good for the mind, body, and spirit. That’s why dogs are making their way into hospitals and treatment rooms across the country. including Rogers Behavioral Health. Thanks to the “Paws Against Pain” fundraising initiative created by Steve and Rhonda Murphy in honor of their dog Cross, $250,000 was raised in 2021 to help launch a CAI program at Rogers.

We thank the Murphys, and all of the donors and supporters of this important effort, for making CAI at Rogers a reality. 

Watch Cross at work
Watch as Cross and his handlers, Steve and Rhonda, demonstrate the benefit of therapy dogs in the behavioral health care setting in this video from May 2019.

How CAI adds value to treatment

At Rogers , we know that each child, teen, and adult who receives our care is unique, and not every person makes connections in treatment or personal discoveries in the same way. Experiential therapies, such as art, horticultural, music, recreational, and certified therapy dogs can provide additional pathways to understanding one’s challenges and coping mechanisms.

 It’s been shown that petting, touching, and talking with animals can lower one’s blood pressure and ease stress. Visits from therapy dogs offer an additional tool for clinical staff to use during treatment.

As seen with Cross, exposure to trained dogs can help some patients through the tough work of treatment for mental health challenges.

Because of the “Paws Against Pain” campaign, Rogers is working to:

  • Hire a dedicated professional specializing in CAI to organize canine teams
  • Educate therapists and staff at Rogers about using canine assisted interventions with specific patients during individual sessions (as well as in a group)
  • Evaluate and modify clinical software to account for data collection and outcomes reporting
  • Collect ongoing data from the CAI program to quantify and define the benefit
  • Expand CAI beyond our Oconomowoc campus, to additional Rogers’ locations across the country and communicate benefits to the wider behavioral health care community

Learn more about mental health and addiction challenges and the work of Rogers Behavioral Health Foundation on our YouTube channel.