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Learning life lessons from furry teachers

Elvira Bratfisch said it has been proven that petting a dog will decrease a person’s heart rate, which in turn makes the individual relax and think more clearly.
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Elvira Bratfisch, a tutor and life coach at Great Minds, uses Cyrus, a certified therapy dog, to help children learn and develop. Photo by Jenny Jelen

Elvira Bratfisch said it has been proven that petting a dog will decrease a person’s heart rate, which in turn makes the individual relax and think more clearly.

That’s why she uses Cyrus, a border collie cross and certified therapy dog, to help her clients.

Dogs don’t judge. They don’t care what you look like. They don’t care how you think. They just love.

Elvira Bratfisch,
tutor and life coach

As a retired educational assistant with more than 15 years experience, Bratfisch said she has always been “passionate” about children’s mental health. While she does use some traditional methods to help youngsters learn at her business, Great Minds, she said she doesn’t limit herself to them.

“I’ve always had an idea of helping kids in a different way,” she said. “Kids connect with animals right away.”

Bratfisch said Cyrus “found her” about two years ago outside her Chelmsford home. She wasn’t really in the market for a dog, but she said they connected right from the start.

Since Cyrus was so gentle, sociable and easy-going, Bratfisch said she thought he might be a good fit for animal assisted therapy. To test the waters, she brought him to visit her parents who live in a building comprised mainly of seniors.

“Everyone just loved the dog,” she said.

Since then, the two have been taking part in St. John’s Ambulance Therapy Dog Program, where they visit libraries, retirement homes and education facilities.

 

Ten-month old Samuel Ernst-Dubois spent time with Cyrus, a certified therapy dog, to rid him of his hair-pulling habit. Supplied photo

Ten-month old Samuel Ernst-Dubois spent time with Cyrus, a certified therapy dog, to rid him of his hair-pulling habit. Supplied photo

Now that Bratfisch has started her own business as a tutor and life coach, she plans to continue using Cyrus to help children develop and learn.

She said animal assisted therapy can benefit kids who suffer from a variety of problems, ranging from behaviour issues like aggression, to conditions like fetal alcohol syndrome.

“Dogs don’t judge,” she said. “They don’t care what you look like. They don’t care how you think. They just love.”

According to Bratfisch, research has stated animal assisted therapy can also reduces depression, anxiety and even encourages sharing.

For kids who have difficulty socializing, Bratfisch said working with a dog is a great way for them to develop confidence.

“It’s easy to look at a dog’s eyes,” she said.

As kids become more comfortable making eye contact with a dog, Bratfisch said they’ll likely be more comfortable making eye contact with people.

Helping kids learn with Cyrus is only part of what Bratfisch does at Great Minds.

She said based on a child’s individual needs, she will develop a plan that includes animal assisted therapy with play therapy and counseling, or “life coaching.”

Great Minds also offers resources for parents who may not know how to help their children. She said she is happy to give parents information and provide them with activities that can help their children develop.

For more information about the services Bratfisch offers at Great Minds, phone 705-919-9878 or e-mail elvira@vianet.ca.
 




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