January is National Train Your Dog Month
With Covid-19 restrictions, all of the in-person school presentations and therapy visits have been on hold for months. However, AIR Dogs: Paws for Minds therapy team Joy Lindo and her dog Willow have found a way to make a difference during these tough times.
Joy, an attorney for a New Jersey agency, has been regularly bringing Willow to work where she has brought comfort to numerous state workers.
“With Covid, the office population was diminished but everyone has been working so long, so hard,” said Joy. “She’s helped people decompress. Some have even cried with her on the floor. She’s lightened up what can be a very stressful environment. She’s done exactly what her mission is, when we have not been able to do it at community events or hospitals.”
“If I don’t bring her to work, people come to my office and ask where she is. I think she now knows more people at my work than I do,” Joy joked.
Joy has had many hobbies and interests over the years, mostly involving animals. She owned a horse for 22 years and competed for much of that time. After becoming a lawyer, she no longer had the time to devote to riding but began volunteering at a local animal shelter in Essex County, visiting once a week for 8 years.
“It is during that time I fell in love with Pit Bulls and realized what wonderful dogs they are,” said Joy.
After Joy’s first Pit Bull passed at the age of 15, she spent 6 months searching for an older Pit Bull with a calm temperament suitable for pet therapy. Then she found Willow.
“What I know is she lived in Philadelphia with an owner who didn’t even bother to name her and did not care for her but kept breeding her to sell puppies,” said Joy, who adopted Willow from a rescue group in August 2018.
Shortly after her adoption, it was discovered at her first vet visit that she had a cancerous tumor in her leg. The tumor was successfully removed and she has been cancer free since.
Joy met co-founders Tricia and Katelyn Baker when she attended an Introduction to Pet Therapy class they taught. After learning of AIR’s mission and becoming a certified team, she was excited to start volunteering.
“I think nearly everyone is impacted in some way by mental illness or suicide, be it personally, or through family, friends or colleagues and I am no exception,” said Joy. “I dealt with many individuals who had both a mental illness and substance use diagnosis in my first job out of graduate school at the Center for Alcohol Studies at Rutgers University.”
Volunteering for AIR has allowed Joy to work with her dog and return to her psychology roots.
“AIR is nothing short of magical,” she said. “I’ve seen it make a tremendous impact through the great work of its founders and volunteers.”
Joy also has seen firsthand what Willow can do. One AIR event that has stuck with Joy was the 16th Annual GSA Forum at Grover Middle School last November. A young girl came up to Joy and asked if she could leave early.
“She started crying, apparently impacted by the tough topics addressed at the forum,” recalled Joy.
Joy explained to her that she would need to check in with her parents or whomever she came with in order to leave, but invited her to stay a while to sit with Willow. She did – for over an hour.
“She sat on the floor with Willow and started talking to me about her dog, her interests, and even showed me some pictures of her artwork on her phone,” said Joy. “At one point she said, ‘I stopped crying and didn’t even realize it. I feel so much better.’”
“That was all Willow,” Joy continued. “That sums it up for me; AIR dogs are extraordinary and can make such a difference.”
When Joy and Willow aren’t visiting hospitals, attending AIR events or bringing comfort to her co-workers, they enjoy group hikes and relaxing together at home. Willow can often be found snuggling with her kitty sister, a calico appropriately named Cali.
But pet therapy is definitely Willow’s calling.
“She is a pure soul who seemed perfect for this type of work. I think having a Pit Bull for a therapy dog is a great ambassador for a breed that is so often misunderstood,” said Joy. “Willow touches the hearts of so many people and it makes me so proud to see the magic she brings.”