How Luna helps clients at The Crisis House

Mel manages The Men’s Crisis House and The Sanctuary based in Bristol. She is involved in our LGBTQIA+ network in London and is the South West Diversity & Inclusion Network Secretary. Mel talks to us about how her dog, Luna, helps clients at The Crisis House.

You know what happens when you say the word ‘walk’ to a dog? Well, Luna gets excited when I say the word ‘work’. She jumps up, runs to get her harness and waits by the front door. I’ve been bringing Luna to work for a couple of years, on and off. Wherever she is in the building she will be with a client; either on the sofa or in the dining room. Once I even found her having a nap with a client!

Luna can sense when people are distressed and can sense who to approach, she knows who will welcome her company and this can be anywhere at work or at home.

The Crisis House provides accommodation based support to men who are experiencing distress or are in crisis, who otherwise might need a hospital admission. People need to want to recover to come here, they need to be open to making changes.

We support clients to find their personal routine, recovery is led by the clients. When I bring in Luna it changes the relationship between staff and clients. She creates a different focus – something to form a connection around.

We are always asking, “What do you want to get from this stay?” When clients stay here they put their trust in us and can often tell us a lot of personal information. In return, I give my trust and let them take Luna out for a walk. When they come back from walking with Luna they are buzzing – it’s a real sense of achievement and can increase their self-esteem. It is quite a mindful activity walking a dog and Luna really enjoys her walk, so giving that time to Luna is sometimes the first positive thing a client may have been able to do for a while.

When I bring in Luna it changes the relationship between staff and clients. She creates a different focus – something to form a connection around.

Luna doesn’t bark when she’s here. She’ll bark at the doorbell at home, but at The Crisis House she never barks. It’s like she knows it’s a shared space. At The Crisis House we call Luna Deputy Dog, she is part of the team. As a staff member Luna allows me to give twice as much, she can connect with clients in a way that I can’t.

SJ has stayed at The Crisis House a few times, and is now our South West Diversity & Inclusion Network volunteer. He talks about how his relationship with Luna has helped with his recovery

I’ve stayed at The Men’s Crisis House several times, inevitably when I have been struggling. I think sometimes when you are finding it difficult to connect with people or to remember what the point of it all is; animals are great because they don’t care what state you’re in, or what you have achieved or haven’t that day. I find mindfulness difficult, but dogs just do it naturally, they live in the moment for the next walk or treat!

Animals can be really grounding; if you’re having a tough time, and you’re getting worked up, the action of stroking a dog, for me, is a really tactile sensory activity which calms me down quicker than any human can. Often when I am distressed I struggle to communicate verbally, Luna doesn’t rely on verbal communication, she responds to touch and emotional distress.

Image: Mel and Luna at The Mens Crisis House

During one of my visits to The Crisis House I was very distressed. I couldn’t see anything good about my situation in any way, I had tunnel vision. I had attempted to take my own life and planned how to do it again, when Luna bounded into the room, like a whirlwind. It was like she could sense something was wrong. She leapt onto me for a cuddle and I just broke down in tears.

Nobody had been able to reach me, I couldn’t connect with people at that point but, seeing Luna was a bit of a reality check: she reminded me of a reason to live and that my dog was still out there waiting for me to come home.

I do like to take Luna for a walk. I can get quite anxious going out and about because it’s busy, loud, and a sensory overload. As soon as I go out with Luna it reduces my anxiety levels. Luna is like a psychiatric assistance dog to me. I’ve never had a panic attack whilst I have been out walking Luna, or put myself in an unsafe situation; both things that happen quite frequently when I am out and about on my own. Luna enables me to navigate crowds, to cross roads safely and to feel protected if I am hearing voices or having paranoid thoughts.

When you begin your stay at The Crisis House, your self-esteem can be at rock bottom. When Mel suggested to me Luna might like a walk I was overwhelmed and couldn’t believe it. If someone puts that trust in you, it really increases your self-confidence.

There are lots of reasons you come here, often it’s a gradual erosion of your self-belief, self-care and feeling of no way out. Within myself I still expect other people to look at me and think that I can’t do things because of what’s happened in my past.

Someone giving you that responsibility challenges those thoughts you have about yourself. This experience was a milestone.

When Luna is at the house I feel more relaxed. Sometimes I have found it difficult to connect with other people or know what to say, but when Luna walks in suddenly you have something to talk about, a shared interest. It is a way to break down barriers with that person. Maybe, once you’ve talked about Luna, you might be able to talk about something else.

When you are staying at the house it can be difficult to find a reason to get up in the morning.

At the Crisis House if I know Luna is coming in, that is a reason to get up that day, and a reason to keep going.


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