UTA social worker advocates for four-legged therapy

Social worker took therapy dog to immigration detention center to meet with children

Wednesday, Jun 22, 2022 • Neph Rivera : Contact

Jan Finch poses with her dogs Allie and Gia" _languageinserted="true
From left, Allie, Gia and Jan Finch.

For decades, Jan Finch has dedicated her life to helping others as a therapist and social worker. With the help of her 5-year-old terrier mix, Allie, the adjunct associate professor of practice at The University of Texas at Arlington’s School of Social Work recently extended a helping hand at an immigration center on the Texas border.

“As a therapist, I am inherently trained in crisis intervention,” Finch said. “So why not work with a dog who can also be trained to help others?”

Finch and Allie, a trained therapy dog, recently completed two one-week-long visits to an immigration center along the South Texas border where children are waiting to be united with family in the United States. Allie quickly bonded with the children, mostly teenagers, and responded to commands in both English and Spanish.

“You see the smiles on their faces, and it is just amazing,” Finch said. “We saw 300 kids on the first trip and 250 on the second trip, as well as more staff. The staff needs support as much as the kids do, because oftentimes their pets aren’t with them.”

Finch, along with Allie and Finch’s other dog, an 8-year-old terrier mix named Gia, are certified in Animal-Assisted Crisis Response through Pet Partners, an organization that promotes the health and wellness benefits of animal-assisted therapy, activities and education.

Finch is a strong believer in the power a therapy animal can have, including for clients who may have gone through significant trauma. One adult came to Finch because she had been sexually abused.

“She just couldn’t talk. She couldn’t tell her story,” Finch said. “The next thing I knew, Allie was in her lap. She was petting her and was able to tell her whole story. That physical interaction with the animal makes a huge difference.”

Finch, who was recently honored with a lifetime achievement award by the North Central Texas-Fort Worth chapter of the National Association of Social Workers, said she traveled to South Texas because her goal in life is to help others. She said she chooses to give her time and energy to people who need it, with hopes that others do the same.

“I think more people should look at their animals and see if they might think about being certified,” she said. “It makes a huge difference, and the connections you make with animals and people are long lasting and deep.”