Brothers Samuel and Diego, 14 and 16 years old, came to the United States from Guatemala. While they were in the care of another shelter, they experienced two failed reunifications that left them both feeling hopeless and upset. They thought they were never going to be unified with a sponsor.
The stress from the uncertainty of their current situation had a negative impact on their relationship; Samuel and Diego didn’t get along. The two brothers wouldn’t speak to one another, and when they did it would escalate to profanity, insults and physical confrontation. Because of the tension between the brothers, they were placed on “poor care relations counseling” and each assigned an individual clinician.
Initially, Diego refused to go to his clinical sessions and said that he didn’t want a clinician at all. He started to act out, and then shut down and stopped communicating at all. In an effort to connect with Diego, his clinician brought her trained Emotional Support Dog, Coco. After begrudgingly meeting for a few sessions with Coco, Shitzu-Poodle soon won him over. Diego confessed to his clinician and Coco that he didn’t like his younger brother, Samuel, because he thought he got in too much trouble and was the reason for their failed sponsorships.
After opening up and working through his feelings around his brother and their reunification, Diego and his clinician began to make strides in rebuilding his relationship with his brother and they were able to incorporate Samuel into Diego’s sessions with Coco. Their sessions together started slow, with low-contact interaction where they would take turns tossing a ball for Coco together in the hallway. But over time they were able to talk to each other through Coco and learned to be more courteous to each other.
Instead of leading with hostility and resentment, Samuel was greeting Diego with happiness and excitement for their walks together with Coco. With Coco’s help, they reconnected as they taught him new tricks, took turns tossing the ball and showed him affection through scratches and belly rubs. After their continued positive interactions together, soon they elected to spend more time together with extended sessions. They had come a long way during their short time at Southwest Key.
During one of their last sessions together, Samuel agreed to continue to work on his behavior and committed to being patient in regaining his brother’s trust. With Coco sitting by their sides, both brothers were able to complete their “poor relations counseling” and demonstrate a healthy sibling relationship. Together, the boys were reunified with their uncle. On their 30-day check-in, both continue to get along and are enrolled in school together, supporting each other in their new life in the U.S.
Learn more about the Emotional Support Dogs at Casa Padre here.