The Magic of Therapy Dogs

In honor of National Pet Day, we want to highlight our Youth Care Coordinator, Marissa Brownell, and her puppy Journey. Marissa is currently working on Journey’s certification to become a therapy dog.


Marissa and her husband rescued Journey in June of 2018. They both wanted a dog, but kept putting it off because of the responsibility. That changed in May of 2018, when Marissa’s husband was robbed at gun point. Animals had always been very comforting to both of them, so they decided it was finally time to grow their family.

“Rescuing Journey was the best decision we ever made,” Marissa said. “She was very therapeutic for my husband after that incident.”

Long before they rescued Journey though, Marissa’s dream was to ultimately train their dog to be a therapy dog.

“I’ve seen what a huge impact therapy animals have had on the youth I’ve worked with in the past,” recalled Marissa. “A therapist would bring her Golden Retriever in for the girls I worked with, and it inspired me to want a therapy dog of my own.”

Marissa noted that she’s watched people open up more, stay calm, and feel safer with a therapy dog around.

Marissa and her husband started training Journey at 8 weeks old by teaching her basic commands and socializing her. They brought her anywhere and everywhere dogs were allowed…grocery stores, Home Depot, restaurants, senior homes. They wanted her to get comfortable being around all types of people and in all types of places so she’d be ready to start her training. Around 6 months old, they enrolled her in obedience class, which is the first step to getting your animal certified.

Now, they are currently in the second step of the process. In two weeks Journey will have to pass her good citizenship class, which is known to be pretty difficult for most dogs to do on the first try. After that, Marissa and her husband will go through a weekend-long training to be a therapy dog handler, and then Journey is on to her final step – therapy dog training with Intermountain Therapy Animals.


“After she passes that final training, she’s good to go,” said Marissa. “She loves people more than anything, so I can’t wait to see how I can utilize her in therapeutic groups for the minors we serve, or in 1-on-1 sessions with clients. She is so affectionate.”

Animals have been used in a therapeutic setting like this to work on a number of different issues, from depression to mental health to social interactions, and more. “The use of animals to facilitate positive changes in a broad spectrum of therapeutic settings is becoming more accepted, appreciated and valued…as those who share their lives with companion animals will attest, there are benefits that animals can provide that oftentimes people cannot.”*

Animals can create safe spaces, and in human trafficking cases, safety is a necessity for healing.

“A counselor, case manager, or other practitioner who offers access to a therapy pet maybe be viewed as less threatening, thus strengthening the therapeutic alliance. [Animals create] a safe space to confront trauma, emotions, and trauma-triggering experiences such as memories of their trafficking situation.”**

We, as individuals who work with human trafficking survivors and their trauma, are thankful for the magic that therapy dogs provide, and even more thankful that one of our staff members is actively working to bring that magic to the survivors here at End Slavery Tennessee.