At Bridge House, there is a special employee who works the night shift, and is known for her calm, gentle character regardless of the situation. Her name is Juno, and she is a therapy dog– a St. Bernard. The homelike setting of Bridge House in Monterey provides a structured, non-institutional therapeutic community where residents with co-occurring substance use disorders and psychiatric disabilities learn to rebuild their lives.
Juno’s human is Leah Mahar, who incidentally also works the night shift at Bridge House. Leah has been on staff for eight years, six of which she has been accompanied by Juno. Leah tells the story of how Juno came to be part of the Bridge House staff:
“I had been working here a couple of years, and knew about therapy dogs and how they could help people with stress. I started looking for a dog that would make a good therapy dog, and saw Juno advertised on Craigslist. I called her owner who had Juno and her mother—they had originally thought to breed Juno. I told the owner that I was looking for a dog to be a therapy dog, and she said she thought Juno’s temperament was perfect for that kind of job.”
Juno’s training began with regular canine obedience classes. But to become a therapy dog, she had to be able to pass additional tests, like not jumping on people, not reacting to other dogs, and not eating food dropped on the ground. She had to remain calm in situations where other people and animals around her might be agitated. She passed with flying colors!
For residents of Bridge House who are learning to cope with mental illness while also dealing with substance use disorders, Juno’s gentle acceptance can be as healing as medication. A typical shift for Juno and Leah begins about 10:45 PM, and some residents will wait up to visit with Juno before they go to bed. “Sometimes it’s hard for our residents to settle into their new routine. They are away from home and may be missing their families and pets. Juno is just there for them, unconditionally.” Often, a few minutes petting and talking to Juno helps residents relax before bed. Since Juno and Leah’s shift continues until 8 AM, residents often visit with Juno when they first get up in the morning. She provides a comforting presence that settles them at the start of their day.
Juno and Leah make up a fantastic therapy team at Bridge House!