It was nearly 14 years ago that Alfie came into our lives. This small, ginger, fluff ball with big soulful eyes and the most delicious puppy smell captured our hearts from the moment we met him. It was because of Alfie’s curiosity that I stepped onto the path towards animal assisted therapy and services. The way he engaged with my therapy clients when they walked through the door of my home office got me questioning if it was possible to invite him into sessions. We ended up going through multiple therapy dog certifications so that he could join me in sessions, and thus altering my career. We visited nursing homes and schools to offer canine assisted services. When we moved to the States, Alfie came with me to the eating disorder clinic and helped me facilitate individual, family, and group sessions. He thrived on physical contact and was ever hopeful for treats. He would lean against clients to help them feel more grounded and paw at them when they drifted away. Throughout his life, Alfie challenged me to stay present and grounded, and opened my heart towards a more compassionate view of what it means to be in relationship with animals.
Alfie passed away peacefully in our arms a few weeks ago and the grief that I feel is profound. An abundance of joy and gratitude for the memories we hold and a depth of pain and longing simultaneously. I was lucky to be surrounded by friends, colleagues, and students who truly understand this particular type of grief, as they embraced me with their empathy and love. With his passing, I have become more aware of everything else that is shifting around me to adjust for his absence. I’m gaining clarity on the transitions in my life that were already in motion that I have been resisting. Change is hard and necessary. Looking back at the impact that Alfie has had in our lives, I can honestly say that when we first brought home this little bundle of fluff, I had no idea how he would change the trajectory of our lives, that we would end up living on a farm, or that I would be doing the work that I do now. Change creates possibilities.
The HERD Institute will be 6 years old this year. I am so thankful for the incredible team of horses and humans who have supported our growth over the years and feel so proud of what we have created. We have endured many transitions, with each season offering its own challenges, but like my grief, I have felt joy, gratitude, pain, and anxiety in equal measure throughout it all. I know that I will continue to experience all the highs and lows of leading an organization. Like my grief, I am thankful to be surrounded by folks who share my passion in creating the type of diverse and inclusive community that I yearn for, whose own desires for sharing skills and knowledge allow them to step in with courage and compassion in how they lift up those they teach and mentor as they help to spread the work of The HERD.
As Spring emerges, I’m excited to announce that we are going to be shaking things up at The HERD Institute. As an educator and mentor, there is nothing more heart-warming for me than to witness the personal and professional growth of our students and graduates. Many of you will have experienced the magic of learning that Sarah Morehouse brings to our certification programs. Sarah not only leads our trainings, mentoring and supervising students, and helping to create the welcoming culture of The HERD programs, she has also been instrumental in the growth of The HERD behind the scenes with her attention to detail in creating policies and procedures. I am so proud to announce her upcoming promotion within our organization to her new role as Senior Instructor & Operations Executive.
We are also thrilled to be welcoming two new team members, Katie Wheeler and Bonita VanTull. Katie is stepping in as our new Finance & Membership Manager, and Bonita is our new Administrative Manager. Watch out for our social media introductions to these two amazing women!
Finally, Crista Broesler, who has been my Executive Assistant since last summer, is moving on to new pastures to focus on her graphic design work. Crista made a huge impact behind the scenes at The HERD in setting up our CRM platform, designing social media graphics, and coordinating our student intake process. While we will miss her daily contributions, Crista will still be on hand to help us with our design needs. She has also generously offered all HERD students and graduates a 15% discount for design work through her business Sweat & Tears Studio. Simply mention The HERD when you contact her.
New places, new faces, and new opportunities for growth. As we move from one season to another, and step into a new way of working, I’m also holding onto the biggest lesson that Alfie taught me – when faced with uncertainty, always stay hopeful and lean in for support.