Paws and Purrs ...Our Spiritual Healers (Dedicated to Alice Crans)
With the anniversary of 9/11 upon us in the US, it is a time to also remember and give thanks to the many people who selflessly volunteered to help the families, loved ones and friends of victims. This article is dedicated to one such individual, and others, who continue to contribute their time and resources to provide aid and comfort to those in need.
Animal Assisted Therapy (ATT) is a relatively new form of therapy that enhances the lives of people through the human-animal bond. Therapy animals provide comfort to the ill and depressed, the elderly, and to those who have suffered traumatic experiences either through abuse or disasters. These wonderful animals come in all breeds, shapes and sizes, and have been trained, specifically evaluated and registered with a licensed organization that operates in this capacity.
When I lost my dear mother to cancer, close family friends, Alice Crans and her husband, Wayne, stayed at my home during the week of the services. Topaz, Alice’s ATT certified golden retriever, was also a welcomed guest and member of the family -- a jewel of the heart in every way. She seemed to know, intuitively, when one of us would begin to break down before the tears ever reached our cheeks. Gently laying her muzzle on a lap or a knee or softly nuzzling a hand, Topaz would lift her eyes upward to bond with ours as if to say, “I’m here…it’s okay…I understand and I care.” She was our spiritual guide in a sense, and soothed our spirits with her affectionate, warm presence.
Alice Crans’ interests in animal assisted therapy began when she was an undergraduate psychology major at Douglass Residential College where she studied the concept of music therapy as a form of stress reduction. She began working in Crisis Response in 1996 by training to work in the area of domestic violence. Both Alice and Topaz comprised the first team in the state of New Jersey to work with Hunterdon County’s Crisis Intervention Team.
Ms. Crans is also on the county SANE/SART (Rape Crisis Response) team and is a Red Cross First Aid, CPR and Pet First Aid Instructor. Topaz completed her Canine Good Citizen certification (CGC), received her (Therapy Dog International) TDI certification in 1995, and achieved membership in HOPE Crisis Response. She worked in the fields of Animal Assisted Activities and Animal Assisted Therapy. In 1996, Alice and Topaz joined TheraPet, Inc. of Clark, NJ, an organization dedicated to bringing the benefits of ATT to veterans and nursing homes, rehabilitation centers, and other groups or individuals with special needs.
In 2001, three days after the jetliners crashed into the Twin Towers of the World Trade Center in NY, Alice was called to Pier 94 with her therapy pets, Topaz, and Birman cat, Kiki. Four other therapy teams were also on hand to help comfort thousands of people waiting for news about their missing loved ones, family members and friends. The animals and their handlers brought the love, compassion and solace that helped enable people to work through some of their pain and trauma amidst horrific circumstances.
These dedicated volunteers also relieved the stress of American Red Cross workers, military personnel, fireman, police and other rescue and aid workers that had transformed Pier 94 into a family assistance center. Alice spent four months on the pier with her therapy pets. She recalls a particular day when she arrived, carrying Kiki in a pouch on her chest, a pet carrier in one hand and a cat-litter backpack in the other:
“An enormous assortment of teddy bears arrived from the south, and everyone was walking around holding one. In fact, a few people were giving me a classic double take as Kiki moved in my hands. They had at first thought she was a teddy bear,” said Alice, her eyes misting over with the memory of the heart-rending devastation of 9/11.
“Then, a fully garbed firefighter covered in soot, with a charcoal-smudged face, mask hanging under his chin and battered hat walked past us. (This was unusual, for they did not normally appear until they had been decontaminated, etc.) But he had managed to get his teddy. He was clearly agitated, and appeared very tightly wound. He exclaimed loudly to all that he wanted so much to thank the people who donated them, and wanted to be certain they were thanked. I told him I was sure they would be. Then, Kiki moved and got his attention. He treated her like a miracle - a vision - and seemed almost shocked. I asked if he wanted to pet her. He did and when she leaned into his hand, tears glinted in his eyes. He left without another word, but I think in better hands.”
In better hands, we have no doubt. People in crisis are not only calmed and soothed by her therapy pets, they also gravitate to Alice who has the rare ability to connect with people who feel as though they have known her for years. The therapy animals at Pier 94 comported themselves well. In the weeks that followed, police insisted on having therapy dogs, cats, and their handlers accompany family members taking ferry trips to and from Ground Zero.
Many years have since passed, during which time Topaz and Kiki contributed thousands of hours of service under the auspices of TheraPet. Alice’s beautiful and talented golden retriever, Willow (pictured with Alice above), followed in Topaz’ beloved paw prints when she passed on at the age of 12. Ms. Crans is now President of TheraPet, and has developed various goal-directed programs for therapists in therapeutic and educational environments.
Anyone who has owned a pet knows, firsthand, how they improve the quality of our lives. They provide us with unconditional love and companionship without the challenges normally associated with human relationships. The soothing act of stroking our pets lowers our heart rate, blood pressure and stress levels, and satisfies one of our most fundamental needs -- the human need to touch.
The therapeutic benefits of animals have been studied and confirmed. Utilization of ATT is understandably growing. There are currently several forms of animal assisted therapy and education; for example, Animal Assisted Therapy (AAT); Animal Assisted Activities (AAA); Animal Assisted Education (AAEd).
TheraPet’s website provides a wellspring of helpful information about the many rewards of becoming involved in animal assisted service to others, and those who have given of themselves, tirelessly, to comfort and aid people in need. It is well worth the visit.
In Memory and Dedication: Alice Crans passed away on April 10, 2015, following a long and courageous battle with cancer. This extraordinary, lovely woman will be missed by many, who take solace and inspiration from the countless gifts she left behind. Her spirit truly lives on.
[The above video was created by harleychic970 of YouTube, and is included solely for educational purposes.]