When you enter Lisa Bax’s house in Taos, you’re greeted by a friendly little poodle who isn’t satisfied until you stroke her hair several times before finally jumping into her owner’s lap.
In 2016, Bax was united with Olive, a California state rescue dog who trained to be a courtroom therapy dog and worked in the Capital City Court Appointed Special Advocates (CASA) program. ), based at the Cole County Courthouse.
The two are currently working on a trip that Bax hopes to expand across the state in an effort to help children struggling with emotional distress.
CASA is a network of volunteers from all walks of life who believe that society has a fundamental obligation to ensure that children thrive, are treated with dignity and are safe, according to the organization’s website. Its volunteers, appointed by the magistrates, watch over and defend abused and neglected children. They try to ensure that children do not get lost in overburdened legal and social service systems or languish in inappropriate groups or foster homes. Volunteers stay on their clients’ cases until the children are placed in safe and permanent homes.
“When the COVID pandemic hit, we couldn’t go to court and had to do videos with our clients,” Bax said. “At the same time, I received calls from out of county from other groups of kids asking if we could pass Olive or drive her past our building. They thought just seeing her would bring joy to the children.”
When the tornado hit Jefferson City in May 2019, Bax said she and Olive went to places where homeless people were staying.
“We were able to bring them a smile and make them forget what was going on in their life at that time for a little while,” Bax said.
Fast forward to December 2021 and that’s when Bax applied for 501(c)(3) status for a new band, Therapy Paws, and in March they were granted that status.
Therapy Paws has been trained to provide and coordinate with handlers the use of trained therapy dogs to help traumatized children and at-risk youth experiencing extreme stress and anxiety.
“We now have three new handlers and therapy dogs and hope to add a fourth this month,” Bax said. “I want to expand from central Missouri. Do up to eight regions with handler crews.”
“When you realize that every year CASA has 160 kids in Cole County going through the program, coupled with the areas just outside the county asking for help, I just said we need to have a greater presence so these little angels can help in times of crisis,” Bax added.
While stroking Olive in her lap, Bax said, much like the CASA kids who are on an unknown journey, through no fault of their own, “This little girl came to see us on her unknown journey. She didn’t know where. would be her next home. I feel she has a certain sense of empathy when she meets a CASA child. They have senses that we humans don’t always pick up on. She knows she was in a situation somewhere somewhat similar to that of these children.
Bax said Olive has worked with children who shut down with minimal verbal interaction and are very withdrawn.
“Olive has this trait where she picks her nose and nudges the kid to see if he’s giving her a little pet,” Bax said. “All of a sudden you see the child’s body language opening up. Before you know it, she’s made her way to their knees.”
Bax said it wasn’t anything he was taught — it’s just Olive’s behavior.
“There are thousands of dogs that behave the same way,” Bax said. “They’re a pack animal, and they want to be around their pack, and they embrace us humans as their pack.”
“She has the common sense to say they are good kids and they have a need, so she wants her presence to be felt there,” Bax added.
From a children’s hospital looking for a therapy dog to a daycare center with kids who can use a special surprise once in a while, that’s what Bax hopes Therapy Paws can do.
Olive was not only therapy for others, but also for Bax.
“And I can have it all the time,” Bax said. “I’ve loved dogs all my life, but it wasn’t until I had CASA training that the lights went out and I knew I needed a tool like a dog. therapy when I go out to meet a CASA child.”
“She’s (Olive) my teddy bear that lets me interact with the kids,” Bax added.
For more than 22 years, Bax served as a paralegal for a law firm, but never worked in the court system.
“When I took CASA training, I knew it was my calling and I wanted to be part of this movement,” Bax said.
To help spread awareness of Therapy Paws, the Missouri Department of Mental Health asked Bax to perform a therapy dog demonstration on Aug. 18 at the Missouri State Fair in Sedalia.
“Now we need to network to let agencies know they can call on us,” Bax said. “I never imagined we would do something like this, but we are ready.”
In the accompanying videoLisa Bax shows off her dogs and talks about the joy they bring her and others.