If dogs really are man’s best friends, as the saying goes, then it makes sense that the men’s-only rehab program at Rally Point Palm Beach would have a therapy dog, right? Well, actually a therapy dog in training.
Rally Point is an addiction recovery program for men in the beautiful beachside community of Palm Beach, Florida. A tight brotherhood of clients stay sober and learn life skills, all while supporting one another. The Rally Point protocol begins with a Partial Hospitalization Program (PHP) and structured sober living, followed by an Intensive Outpatient Program (IOP) and outpatient care. A small group of just six men at a time participate in the PHP, which allows for plenty of personal attention. Treatment includes group and individual sessions, 12-step meetings and experiential therapies like art, music, fishing and outdoor adventures.
Like recovery—Bruno’s status as a therapy dog is a work in progress. The English bulldog is the family dog of Rally Point’s founder, Chris Sheehan. He adopted Bruno right around the same time he opened Rally Point. He heard of other recovery programs that had therapy dogs and figured it would be a great addition to the new facility. His last English Bulldog, a kind and gentle soul, unfortunately passed away. When he met Bruno at nine weeks old, he knew it was meant to be. And then he brought him home.
It quickly became apparent that Bruno was nothing like Sheehan’s previous bulldog. Starting from day one, Bruno had a ton of energy and showed some signs of aggression. They brought in canine trainer Sean Kelly to work with Bruno on his basic obedience, but the dog continued to struggle with impulsive behavior. He would be fine one second and jumping all over someone the next. When he was a small puppy this wasn’t a big deal, but Bruno quickly grew to be a large dog—he now weighs 68 pounds.
Bruno’s experience is not unlike a person who is new in recovery. Sometimes, even the most sincere client struggles to adjust to new surroundings in treatment. It’s easy to rebel out of habit after living a life in active addiction. Nobody understands this better than those who have been there. With this in mind, Rally Point implements a system of peer support where the clients who have been around a bit longer model behavior for the newer guys.
Because the path of personal growth often isn’t smooth, Bruno developed a habit of jumping on people and became fiercely territorial of Sheehan. His behavior got to the point where he had to be separated from the clients when his trainer Sean wasn’t around, which may have reinforced some of the bad habits. Just like an addict alone is in bad company, without being exposed to the clients and visitors at Rally Point, Bruno had a hard time developing social skills. Many men also come to Rally Point without the tools they need to effectively process their emotions without acting out. The clinical approach to this issue is important, but creative therapies like art and music give clients new methods of dealing with stress they can take with them when they leave rehab.
The team at Rally Point was committed to Bruno’s future as a therapy dog, so they decided to get creative with his training. They set a new goal to address Bruno’s energy and moods. Recognizing that most of the problems happened with Bruno once he got too excited, they set out to focus on keeping him calm and serene. Much like a person without many tools to manage emotions, Bruno was tough to control once he got worked up. However, once an effort was made to pay close attention to his feelings and triggers, things started to improve.
Being outdoors and active is a huge part of life at Rally Point. The men have regular structured adventure therapy sessions and the opportunity to fish off the dock behind the PHP house in their downtime. In parallel, Sheehan and his team made a conscious effort to give Bruno as much exercise as he could handle as part of his new lifestyle training. They also decided to eliminate all gates and windows where he could see people but not interact with them—then discovered that this approach was only building his frustration since he wanted to play, but was being held back. When he was finally allowed to go free, he was excited and overly aggressive because he had too much pent-up energy.
Bruno’s trainer Sean, who is very proud of his improvements, shared, “Bruno is not unlike the clients! He had to get comfortable within his environment, fought hard to maintain his existence and wasn’t very adaptable to change. Like the men, he is realizing that working with others makes life easier and we all see the benefits.”
Since the adjustments in the approach to managing his behavior, Bruno has been making great strides at Rally Point. He just turned two this month and his behavior has improved tremendously in the past year. Sheehan and the team are still vigilant on keeping him calm at all times no matter what the situation is, but he is learning how to control himself. Bruno now participates in group (with Sean) twice a week and gets to hang out in the office. The day is coming soon when Bruno will be ready to take the next steps to officially become a certified therapy pet!
Treatment at Rally Point takes holistic to a whole new level. By incorporating clinical care, peer support, 12-step involvement and providing a lovable canine companion, Rally Point is like a home—only better. The facility also boasts a truly diverse range of licensed, experienced therapists on-site to help clients heal. Soon, one of these may be Bruno.
Photo of Bruno provided by Rally Point. Used with permission.