HolisticWisdom.org web site
Linda Diane Feldt
NCTMB, Holistic Health Practitioner and Herbalist
The Ann Arbor Center for Holistic Health and Traditional Wisdom
This article, by Linda Diane Feldt, originally appeared as: "Rhodesian Ridgebacks: Ridgeback Rx" The AKC Gazzette, (New York New York, The American Kennel Club Inc.) May 2001 Volume 118, No. 5
Linda Diane Feldt is a holistic health practitioner, and first-time Rhodesian Ridgeback owner with a unique perspective on RRís in therapy work.
We found the young boy in the hospice dining room, in tears. Zomba took him by surprise when she nudged him with her nose. "A Ridgeback!" he cried, and for awhile, the tears were gone.
He knew about enough about Rhodesian Ridgebacks to comment that Zomba was small for the breed, and to tell his uncle who was with him about their hunting skills. This was his first close encounter with a Ridgeback-- he had only read about them. It was also the first time he had to pet a dog backwards - smoothing his hand up the ridge.
As we visited the boy showed me pictures of his own dogs at home. Finally, as Zomba waved goodbye to the family, they took me aside to thank us for being there. The uncle told me that we had helped this boy make it through what was surely the worst day of his life, the day his mother lay dying.
Later that day, Zomba took her teddy bear out from her toy basket, wrapped her front paws around it and lay quietly for some time. I reassured her, but I sensed she felt the grief of the boy she had earlier befriended.
The Rhodesian Ridgeback's striking good looks and unusual ridge are natural conversation starters. This is always useful in therapy work, where we meet many strangers. But beginning the conversation is the first step, having a special interaction that in some way helps the client is the real purpose. Zomba and I started volunteering at a residential hospice on her first birthday. From the beginning, she attracted admiration and attention for her unusual features and beautiful form. People love to see and feel her ridge, and her coat is velvety soft. Because she is an unusual breed, people like to ask questions about her background and function. Having a dog that doesn't drool or smell is also an asset in therapy work.
The Rhodesian Ridgeback personality may seem like an unusual choice for a therapy dog. Although the breed standard characterizes them as being "aloof with strangers" this reputation merits closer scrutiny. Bred to hunt in packs, the Ridgeback is highly intuitive and empathic. Although this sometimes causes Zomba to be overwhelmed during therapy work, she is also keenly aware of my responses to people and has an innate knowledge of who needs affection, and how. Her attention is targeted rather specifically. The dog lovers we encounter sense immediately that if she chooses you she will be loyal, but it is not an alliance she offers lightly. While I was originally concerned that this aloofness might hinder her usefulness in therapy, I have found that it makes the encounters more gritty, and more strikingly honest.
As a holistic health practitioner I see clients in my home, and her gentle presence is welcomed by nearly all my clients. She knows most of them by name, and reacts differently to each person. Her spontaneous kisses and even hugs are nearly always timely and appropriate -- she really does seem to know who needs what sort of attention. Being a young bitch, she sometimes becomes a bit too excited or overwhelms a client, but overall she is remarkably astute at applying her special brand of therapy in a session.
Like most Ridgebacks, Zomba is happiest doing whatever I am doing, and is able to be very calm and relaxed as long as she is getting sufficient exercise, so she is the perfect dog to have as my constant companion while I work, see clients, and even teach classes. When she was a young puppy I spent time each day ensuring proper socializiation, as well as in operant conditioning training. The early investment of time and attention to this intelligent and sensitive dog has encouraged and developed her natural Ridgeback intuition to a high degree, and has created a wonderful partner for my work.
Linda, thank you for sharing your story.