10 years later, Critterish Allsorts is so much more than just an animal education company. In 2011, the company commenced working with a group of private medium/high secure psychiatric hospitals in the field of animal assisted therapy. Initially the work was on a regular but ad hoc basis, but by the end of 2011 there were two contracts in place to provide the service weekly to the patients in the hospitals. Such was the impact that Dale's animals had on the patients.
The animal assisted therapy work has become Dale's passion, and he is committed to helping as many people as possible with his animals and their unique brand of therapy. In August 2013, Dale officially qualified as an animal assisted therapy practitioner and counsellor and established a second company to run alongside Critterish Allsorts. The goal of Critter Assisted Therapy (as the new company is known) is to "Unleash The Healing Power Of Animals". Working with dogs, cats, rabbits, guinea pigs, skunks, chinchillas, snakes, lizards, tortoises, insects and more, Critter Assisted Therapy intends to prove the benefits of animals, of all species, in a therapeutic setting.
Dale has seen, first-hand, the way that the human-animal bond can be beneficial. One of his best memories was the moment that his rescue border collie, Beanz, picked up a ball and returned it to the thrower. Beanz had been with the family for a year before his first therapy experience. He was taken from the streets of Ireland by a dedicated border collie rescue, and was initially scared of traffic and toys. Dale and his ex-wife Jema were patient with Beanz as he developed trust in them and took small steps as he began to walk - sometimes moving just a few yards before Beanz would freeze and drop to the ground. Eventually Beanz began to enjoy his walks, but despite the family's efforts, he just would not play with toys. One day, on a visit to one of the psychiatric hospitals, a patient produced a tennis ball and began to throw it for Beanz. Dale laughed, as the family had made every effort to get Beanz to enjoy play, but to no avail. Such is the nature of the patients at the hospital, that they were VERY persistent and just would not give up. Eventually Beanz decided to not just pick the ball up, but to catch it in mid air!! He surprised himself, and came running to Dale with the ball in his mouth, wanting to know what to do. Dale admits to being an emotional wreck in front of his large client - in floods of tears, he got Beanz to release the ball, and threw it again. This time Beanz ran after it. "It was like the puppy had been reborn!!" The way that the patients worked with Beanz, and would not give up, showed a strength of character that was beneficial to the dog and also confidence building for the patients - something they may never have realized without the presence of Beanz as a therapy animal.
This was the beginning of many experiences, that have been life changing for Dale and the people that Critterish Allsorts and Critter Assisted Therapy visit each day - "To hear somebody with paranoid schizophrenia tell you that, when they are with your animal the voices stop, is the reason that I do this. For one hour at least, that guy had complete peace from his demons, and he could not have been more appreciative. The healing power of animals is second to none, and I want to bless as many people as possible with that gift."
In the last 10 years Dale has moved from working with psychiatric service users, to working in prisons and children’s hospices with his animals, where he now has more contractual work and is the only Animal Assisted Therapy Practitioner in the UK working in prisons, with such a large range of animals – Beanz is always a firm favourite.
With articles in many major publications around the world, including the BMJ and appearances on TV (BBC’s “Animal Saints & Sinners”, 5 News, Educating Greater Manchester), Dale also published a book on his work called “Unleashing the Healing Power of Animals” in 2017. The book details some of his many rescue animals (including a chapter about Beanz), their stories and the work that they do to help people. It is available on Amazon.
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