Therapy dog helps inmates with mental health

COLUMBUS, Ga. – He’s a certified therapist at the Muscogee County Jail and when he enters the room, the inmates love to hug his neck and give him treats.

Sgt. Shannon Zeisloft, Beethoven’s Handler, says, “He’s so receptive to those inmates.”

Meet the Muscogee County Jail’s newest therapist – Beethoven.

“They hug him, they play with him, they do everything with him. He is a very amazing dog to me,” she says.

Beethoven has been through six months of intensive training and knows it’s time to work when he puts on his vest.

He’s also deaf, Zeisloft says it’s an asset when it comes to working in a noisy jail. “There are a lot of distractions here and it doesn’t both him one bit.”

The inmates speak his language using sign language they learned to communicate with him and give him treats.

It’s been just a few weeks since Beethoven started visiting the three mental health units at the jail visiting 20-25 inmates.

His mere presence brings laughter and smiles to an otherwise gloomy cell, not the best atmosphere for those struggling with mental illness.

Dr. Cyndy Pattillo, the Jail Mental Health Director, “If people don’t feel comfortable interacting with other people, they feel comfortable interacting with Beethoven.”

He works two hours a day, three days a week.

In those two hours, he brings love, affection, and normalcy.

Perhaps the reason why Beethoven is so successful here is because he’s ha a rough life too – he’s a rescue.

Many of the inmates love to talk about Beethoven.

“He helps my anxiety from being in here,” said Ann Marie.

“He likes to hug and he likes to kiss,” said Lunyea

“It feels like we’re not in jail no more,” said Stephanie.

“Everybody gets excited when he comes in here.,” said Megan.

And in just a short amount of time, Zeisloft says Beethoven is doing his job heads and TAILS above the rest.

“He makes a difference – he really does.”

Beethoven visits the three mental health units once a week but Sgt. Zeisloft says she plans to make an extra visit on Thanksgiving.

She says Beethoven has a big future. She hopes to hopes to start taking him out in the community more.

Beethoven is starting to get some attention for his good work. PAWS will honor him and Sgt. Zeisloft at an upcoming PAWS event as a success story.

 

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