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Learning To Communicate With Pets

Photo by Jim Kent

If you’re having a problem with emotional issues that impact your behavior, you go see a therapist, or a psychologist, or maybe even a psychiatrist. Today we visit a woman who helps animals with behavioral issues in order to make them better pets.

Contrary to what the growling and barking I hear might sound like, it’s a pack of dogs having a great time.

I’m standing in the Animal Psychology Center in Rapid City where a dozen or so dogs have the run of a massive 170 by 50 foot “play” room. There are four huge couches to jump or sleep on, water, food, plenty of toys and bones…and Katherine Andrews – the animal psychologist.

“Dogs come here because they love it,” observes Andrews. “I mean, I call this ‘Disneyland for Dogs’. They get to come here and hang out with their friends, eat bones and…it’s a lot of fun for them.”

Katherine Andrews has been taking care of and training animals since she was 9. She founded a humane society in Dallas in her early 20s and arrived here seven years ago to bring her special insight into animal behavior to pet owners in Rapid City.

Although some friends questioned her choice to set up shop in an area known for its conservative views on animals, Katherine credits famed “Dog Whisperer” Cesar Milan for broadening the understanding of animal psychology.

“He has created a lot of understanding as far as dog psychology and created some reality with the public,” says Andrews. “I mean ten years ago you would say, ‘I’m an animal behaviorist or animal psychologist and people would just snicker, you know, and laugh at you, like…yeah, whatever…like you were talking about witchcraft or something. But, yeah, it has changed because he’s lent a lot of credibility to it. And I think that once someone has experienced going through a process with an animal…you know, they’re a believer.”

One of those believers is Kim Mutschelknaus whose boxer, Sally, had some issues.

Katherine – the dog psychologist, explains.

Credit Photo by Jim Kent
Sally - the boxer who learned to be part of a pack

“I originally did a house call with them because she was too aggressive to bring to the center,” explains Andrews. “She virtually just wanted to kill other dogs. She was un-socialized to the point where she did not know how to be with her own kind.”

But that was then. Now, Sally’s a changed girl…er, dog.

Not only is Sally willing to just sniff and not chew my microphone, but she loves coming to what Katherine Andrews calls “doggie daycare”.

“She comes on Wednesdays…Sally does,” says Andrews. “And when she knows Wednesday morning is there...Kim says she’ll come to the edge of the bed and stare at her while she’s sleeping…like ‘It’s Wednesday. When are you getting up?” And then Kim gets up and she’s like “let’s go, let’s go, let’s go.”

It took months of introducing Sally to other dogs – both in her neighborhood and then at the Animal Psychology Center – to reacquaint her to the “pack” mentality that all dogs are born with. A mentality that Katherine Andrews says is the most healthy for them.

“I have people tell me they can’t drive in this part of the neighborhood on weekends, because if they do they think they’re going to daycare,” Andrews explains. “They just love to come. It’s emotionally healthy for them to be with their own kind. Yeah.”

“See, I never would have thought about that before,” says Kim Mutschelknaus. “But I never had a dog like her before.”

Mutschelknaus, Sally’s owner, comes from a rural background. Kim says the thought of taking a dog to an animal psychologist was beyond her, until she met a dog she couldn’t handle.

“You know, most dogs that we’ve had get along with other dogs,” Kim explains. “But she’s kind of stubborn and just has her mind set a certain way and is not gonna get out of that so…”

So, that’s why even after months of therapy Sally returns to Katherine Andrews “daycare pack” to remind her what it’s like to be with other dogs.

Credit Photo by Jim Kent
Sally, the boxer, endures socialization lessons with a cat

Sally almost makes it out the door before one final lesson in socializing - with cats.

Standing in an outdoor pen with eight more members of her pack, Katherine reminds me that a dog’s behavior issues are never just caused by the animal. She says that’s why it’s important for people to be willing to seek help in order to learn how to communicate with their dogs…no matter what they’re saying.

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