By Martha Helton
The glitz and clamor of the big city can often muffle the true whisperings of the heart. Originally a southern California girl, the bubbly, animal lovin’ Lyndi Hanna truly tuned into her heart whispers and her God-given abilities when she put her roots down in Texas in 2001. Over lattes, Lyndi’s eyes sparkled as she shared with me her story about how she and her animals became an animal therapy team…a story of faith, family, canines and equines, comforting nuzzles and grateful smiles.
The Dublin resident has always been fond of animals and instinctually knew how to work with them. “Horses and dogs are my two big passions. We had dogs growing up but it was always me who kind of took over and trained them–just for fun. I figure out the training as I go along,” shared Lyndi. Lyndi also found encouragement from her mom early on. “My mom always said I have really good skills at training dogs,” said Lyndi.
Involvement in 4H growing up provided an avenue to train her Australian Shepherds in showmanship and agility and prepared her for having a horse. She eagerly bought a horse after moving to Texas—a once unattainable dream in expensive California. Her love of horses led her to earn a degree in equine management and reproduction from Weatherford College.
Post graduation, however, Lyndi entered a period of uncertainty. She turned to her faith in God for clarification and direction. “The doors seemed to keep closing when it came to working with horses and I was like, ‘What’s going on?’ I kept trying to see how God was leading.”
At the time she was training her new dog, Annie, in the basics and evaluating what she was capable of. She seemed to enjoy people and had high endurance—good qualities for pet therapy. “She’s not shy,” Lyndi observed. “But she was really, really hyper and I had to train her to be calm. I would train her at a nursing home. But I had to walk her really fast for 30 minutes to get all her energy out,” Lyndi laughed.
Annie isn’t the only one who enjoys people and has high endurance. “I love to talk to any age. I can have good conversations with anybody. That’s where I knew all these pieces were fitting together…to show me what I should do.”
Lyndi worked toward getting her license by visiting nursing homes. Annie got licensed and registered as a Pet Partners therapy dog in February last year. (Pet Partners is the leading therapy animal organization in the United States.) “We’re now covered by insurance and we’re now called a pet therapy team rather than just an animal wandering in,” She chuckled.
“What happens on an outing?” I asked.
“I might go to a nursing home just to brighten up the day, bring a little bit of cheer. Some of the things Annie does to bring cheer: she’ll snuggle her muzzle into someone who needs a little extra TLC, wiggle her rear in happiness, be goofy if someone needs a laugh, or lay on a staff member’s feet who has had a hard day.”
A different mindset is required for hospital visits. “We’ve been going to the hospital (Texas Health Harris Stephenville Hospital) since July. It was not until we got into the hospital that we got into more serious places…where people have had people who died and Annie’s there for them, which is awesome. It can be hard and stressful and sad. There are days where I come home and start crying. But people remember that we were there and helped just a little bit.”
“What was one of your more touching visits?” I asked.
“Well,” Lyndi stops and thinks. “It happened to be one of those days I was busy. I have so many things I have to do with her before I step out—put her badge on and my badge on, brush her down, brush her teeth and we go in and after the third visit it dawned on me, I forgot to pray. I pulled to the side and said, ‘God lead me to where I’m supposed to go. Lead me to whoever I’m supposed to be here for.’
“I walk into the next room and I am so glad I prayed. I can tell I’m gonna be there for a while. I was supposed to be in this room. The lady was pretty sick. Her husband is sitting down in a chair and he turns around and I say hi and he asks me to bring Annie over. She’s not a dog person, but in a few minutes she says, ‘But that dog’s really nice, I want to pet that dog.’
“We’re chatting and all of a sudden the man says, ‘Would you do me a favor and pray for us? I could tell that you’re not only a believer but that you are carrying God’s spirit when you walked in. I could feel the presence of God when you walked in.’” As she shared, Lyndi choked back tears and paused. “I try to do that. I try to do everything Christ-like, yet it’s not always that you hear that from people.”
Comfort and companionship not only come in canine form. “I have two miniature horses that I use in pet therapy as well. Actually, they are a little bit taller than miniatures – they’re tall enough to see over the edge of the beds to see people. May Lillie is the one that’s trained and has her license. Tillie is still being trained. May Lillie can go into the hospital but its shedding season right now so I’ll take her when the shedding stops. People are sure surprised when they see her!”
Much preparation is required before each visit. “Our rules are the animal has to be washed within 24 hours of visitation if you go to a hospital…nursing homes—not so much. They just need to smell good, be presentable.”
Besides nursing homes and hospitals, Lyndi visits Central Elementary. “That’s the only place I go to where I get to see a lot of progress. When you walk in the room, all of a sudden they want to talk. Kids that are on walkers who don’t want to walk around, I can give them the dog leash and they will walk around the building. That’s what we do…we break the ice a lot in a lot of different places. ”
Since pet therapy is relatively unknown in her area, Lyndi is starting her own non-profit animal assisted therapy group for Erath and all surrounding counties. “I have a couple of people I’m training right now who have joined me in my group. Everyone has to go through Pet Partners—the same training that I had. One lady I’m working with has a German shepherd and the other has an Italian mastiff.”
Since Annie loves people, she has a Facebook page (Annie’s Trails—my journey as a registered Pet Partner therapy dog) with updates from her people visits. Lyndi’s family is intricately involved as reporters and cheerleaders. “I call my mom and ask her to put something on my page or tell her this person wants me to pray for them—she’s also my secretary,” Lyndi giggles.
Through Lyndi’s visits, the eyes of both animal and human meet and find comfort and healing…even more so because of Lyndi’s deep-seated desire to connect a comforting God to his creation. “My parents and my grandparents are my prayer team. And the directors I put together for the nonprofit organization I’m putting together are going to be as well.”
Currently, Lyndi volunteers her time (although someone underwrites her gas expenses). As she moves into a 501(c)(3) non-profit status, she hopes to have more financial backing, becoming Annie’s Therapeutic Companions. “It’s a great time in my life to do this because I’m not married, I have nothing else going on that I can’t set aside and do this full-time.”
Indeed, heart whispers turn into heart loving action when a girl and her dog walk in their divinely appointed ventures.
Photos by Southern Grace Photography and provided by Lyndi Hanna