Christi Dudzik, LMHC, MC
President and owner of Healing Paws. She received her bachelor's degree in Secondary Education - Psychology and Social Studies from Clemson University in 1979 and her Master's degree in Counseling and certification in Addiction Studies from Seattle University in 1991. She received her National Board License in Mental Health in 2000. She taught high school for nine years and worked as a drug and alcohol counselor for over two years.
Along with her training in human behavior, Christi has extensive education and training in animal behavior. She trained and competed with her dogs in obedience for 15+ years, both in the United States and Canada. She continues to educate herself through credentialed organizations whose focus is the human-animal bond.
Christi develops and conducts workshops and skills training classes for volunteers and professionals wishing to work with their animals in the community. She also works with people experiencing debilitating dog fear, helping them to become more comfortable when in the presence of a dog.
Because of her deep belief in the human-animal bond, Christi, along with her canine associate, Bear, created Healing Paws in 1993.
Paddy Dudzik, therapy dog extraordinaire
Hi! I’m Paddington Bear. My friends call me Paddy or Pads. I have been working with my mom as a therapy dog since 2011. I love my work, having people tell me how handsome I am, petting me, and playing with me. I think it is especially great to help people get over their fear of dogs.
My favorite game is to find toys that have been hidden by people. My favorite toys are a JollyBall and an orange bumper.
In my off hours, I like to hang out with my 2- and 4-legged family, play dog games, and go to the dump with my dad.
Viggo dudzik, therapy dog newbie
Hiya! I’m Viggo. I am new to the wonderful world of therapy work, having become a registered therapy dog in 2017. Paddy and I now “job share”, splitting mom’s work between the two of us.
I like learning the ropes. Paddy told me it would be fun, and he is right! People telling me I am a sweet, handsome boy, getting an occasional paycheck (that’s what mom calls my treats when we’re working), what’s not to love?!
When I’m not working, I like to fetch and fetch and fetch a toy in the yard. When it is rainy, mom hides toys in the house for me to find. That really makes me think, and tuckers me out. But, after a quick rest, I’m ready to do it all again.
Paddy and Viggo, along with Christi, are registered therapy dog teams, medically badged, through Reading with Rover, www.readingwithrover.org
Ruby Dudzik, Goddess of the Universe, now retired Therapy dog
Hello, my people. After 11 years of allowing people to pat me and enjoy my presence, I have decided to step away and let the younger generation carry on the cause. It is a good cause.
I must say, I enjoyed making a difference in the lives of countless people of all ages, at both hospitals and schools.
These days, my main goals are to keep the laps of my family warm, sit outside in the sunshine, and keep the Labs in line.
I may be small, but anyone who knows me will agree, I am mighty!
History of Healing Paws Inc
In 1991, Christi saw a flier for a Delta Society Pet Partners® workshop. As an avid dog owner who had been training dogs since 1986 and showing her dogs competitively, she decided to check it out. Little did she know that decision would lead to a career as an Animal-Assisted Therapy (AAT) professional.
In 1992, while working on her Master in Counseling degree at Seattle University, she had a professional epiphany. A friend of hers was quite upset, and it seemed no words could comfort her. Then Christi's yellow Lab, Bear, whom she called her four-footed soul mate, instinctively approached her friend. Her friend looked at Bear and started telling him her story. Bear showed Christi the power of AAT and inspired her to start Healing Paws Inc. She discovered the Delta Society, took their very first therapy team workshop, and became a registered Pet Partners team with Bear. She eventually became a Delta Society Instructor and Evaluator, and the rest is history."
Because of her deep belief in the healing power of the human-animal bond, she, along with her canine associate, Bear, created Healing Paws in 1993. Public speaking engagements led to two new programs at separate facilities. At this same time, Animal-Assisted Activites and Therapy (AAA/T) was starting to have more of a presence in nursing homes, hospitals, and schools.
Christi started as a volunteer therapy team with her dog, Bear, in 1993 at a skilled nursing facility. She became frustrated as the facility had more need than she and her dog could give. The facility asked her to volunteer eight hours a week -- an amount of time she could not financially afford to give. Understanding that their request was unrealistic, the facility offered to pay her for her services as a Mental Health Counselor. Because she couldn't get reduced hours at her regular job, she quit and devoted herself, full-time, to AAT. "A door cracked open and I had to walk through it," she explained. "I also had a very supportive husband." Within a couple of weeks, her hours were expanded to 28 a week (which included program and policy development, report writing, charting, and meetings in addition to AAT sessions).
Though Christi is quick to extol the benefits of volunteer registered therapy teams, she also stresses the need for professionals in the field as well. "We can work with the more difficult populations -- the hard-to-reach folks," she says. Often working with Rehabilitation and Recreational therapists, Christi is there with her registered therapy dog to enhance the care patients are getting. When working with a therapy team, the patient often forgets it's therapy, which causes them to invest more fully in the session and to stay at it longer. Being a licensed Mental Health Counselor and working with an experienced, well-suited therapy dog, has allowed Christi to work with patients in psychiatric settings. Her dog helps bring out the best in people, and the bridge of trust between the patient and their caregiver develops quicker. She often says she witnesses miracles on a regular basis just by being on the other end of the leash.
Healing Paws considers the well-being of the whole person -- their physical, cognitive, emotional, and spiritual states. Therapy animals serve to motivate individuals in their therapies, to bridge communication gaps, and to offer opportunities for connection with another living being. The Healing Paws program is not designed to replace current therapies, but rather to enhance the work that is already being done.
"My dogs tend to be big clowns," adds Christi. "They are very engaging and interactive." They have participated in obedience classes and are willing to perform "tricks.” I teach patients hand signals to do with the dogs, giving them a tremendous sense of empowerment and fun. The whole experience lightens the patient's heart, and gives the family, visitors, and staff a tremendous sense of joy to see their loved one, the patient, smiling and acting more like themselves, even if he or she is surrounded by tubes.”
Today, Christi coordinates therapy dog programs at two health care facilities, consults with multiple therapy dog programs, teaches therapy team classes, assists facilities in developing their therapy animal programs, and provides AAT at multiple health care facilities, weekly. For however many patients they see, Christi believes they touch at least twice as many adults, parents, visitors, and staff. "You have to give the staff time, because the health care setting is so fast-paced and emotional," explains Christi. "To be able to stop and look at a warm, furry face, to reach down and pat the dog, it takes them away from the stress of life. It's a wonderful break, even if it's just for a few seconds." Christi is a prime example of the professional AAT provider. She has merged her love for dogs and her profession as a Mental Health Counselor to help people in need. She has always had a strong connection with her dogs, and equates working with them to working with a treatment tool: "a very effective tool," she adds, "with 'children' of all ages."