When Nohea Avery first took her daughter Kalea in for therapy sessions at the Cancer Support Community Redondo Beach, she said the 7-year-old was extremely shy, clinging to her and not opening up easily. All that changed when therapist Nancy Lomibao brought in her dog Harley, a Pomeranian-chihuahua mix.
“Harley kind of opened up Kalea so she felt comfortable around the dog,” Avery said during an interview this week. “She laughed and her personality came out more. She started being more comfortable with Nancy as well, so I no longer needed to be right there with her.”
Pet therapy, which is relatively new to Lomibao’s practice over the past 18 months, represents a growing field in therapy practices worldwide and just one of more than 270 programs offered by the Redondo Beach nonprofit, which provides everything from counselling sessions to yoga and movie nights.
The Torrance mother plans to share her experience with pet therapy and other services at the group’s fundraising event next week called Girls Night Out at the Comedy and Magic Club in Hermosa Beach.
Three nights of comedy and auctions will take place Tuesday though Thursday, Oct. 1-3 with proceeds benefiting the Cancer Support Community Redondo Beach. There is no word yet on what comedians might make a guest appearance, but last year Paul Reiser performed a set.
The roughly $1 million per year raised by the CSCRB goes directly into programs for the community, such as those used by the Avery and others, Lomibao said. The nonprofit had more than 22,000 visits last year from roughly 2,000 adults and more than 100 children and teenagers.
Kalea and her brother, 5-year-old Noah, were diagnosed with rare brain tumors last year. Both children are now doing well and are back to leading normal lives. Noah finished his treatment in January and Kalea had her last chemotherapy treatment in July but spent much of August in the hospital.
“Pet therapy provided a safe place for my daughter to feel comfortable speaking to someone other than her parents,” Avery said. “It’s given us the tools as parents to know how to react in certain situations and how to respond to our children. It’s also given us a sense of security knowing that if we need any other resources they are there.”
Lomibao, who is also the nonprofit’s program director, said working with her 2-year-old dog Harley has been a breakthrough in her therapy practice of more than 20 years.
“He liked people and would let people pet him and he was being very sweet,” she said. “After that, he went into some of the support groups, and then I began using him in individual sessions.”
She said the dog’s calm nature and affection helps break the ice. Now Harley is an official pet therapy dog in training.
“It’s worked really well with some teams in private practice with patients who have been depressed,” Lomibao said. “Animals sort of snap them out of it in a way that sometimes humans never will.”