SoulPaws Connects Therapy Pets With Those Who Have Eating Disorders

Lori Ennis
by Lori Ennis
Service animals are instrumental to the well-being of those for whom they serve. Now there’s a program that uses assistance animals to help patients battling eating disorders.

It’s not uncommon at all to hear of or see service dogs as they assist those with PTSD, autism, inability to see/hear or even epilepsy or diabetes. In fact, more and more, we are uncovering the amazing potential pets have to not only give us love and support, but to help us in our day-to-day lives as well.

Related: Study: Therapy Dogs Help ASD Children Improve Social Skills

Shannon Kopp is the author of Pound for Pound: A Story of One Woman’s Recovery and the Shelter Dogs Who Loved Her Back To Life (the title alone makes me tear up), and says that dogs helping her overcome bulimia was the inspiration behind her launching her group therapy workshop SoulPaws. With Dr. Annie Petersen, who is with the association for Human-Animal Bond Studies at the San Diego Humane Society, the workshops help inspire those with eating disorders to overcome them, with trusty and loyal pets by their side.

Kopp struggled with bulimia for many years, with it starting when she was a teenager. When she was 23, she entered a rehab program for depression and bulimia, and met a horse. Sounds odd, but was life-saving, actually, as the horse was part of the facility’s equine therapy program. It was there Kopp realized that she was an animal lover before she was a person with an eating disorder, and she knew once she recovered, she had to get back to that person.

She began volunteering at the San Diego Humane Society, but sadly relapsed and began struggling with bulimia again. Her therapist suggested that instead of binging on the sweets she had started to do again, she instead commit to visiting a shelter dog as replacement therapy. Kopp said that was a turn in her life, as she no longer felt the need to binge and then purge, but instead, she was desperate to sit with animals who needed her attention and her support.

She poured her tears into their fur, as she could feel their love and gratitude and pains emanate from their eyes, and she said she did not leave the kennels until she knew the urge to purge was gone.

Dogs then became her go-to when depressed or feeling the need to purge, and SoulPaws was founded. She shares her story in her book, but she wanted to do more for the dogs and for people. She and friend Dr. Petersen created a program that was designed to help those who struggle with food and body issues and incorporated pet therapy.

Related: Can Therapy Dogs Affect Echocardiogram Results?

The pair offered their program first in 2016, partnering with Paws’itive Teams certified therapy dogs and volunteers. The program included group-interaction with the pets as well as 20 minutes of alone time with them, and was free to those with eating disorders–an uncommon thing for those who suffered. The non-profit met a great community need, and now is partnered with organizations like Association for Human-Animal Bond Studies, Hooves and Paws and the San Diego Humane Society to reach those who may need it in the San Diego area.

If you know of anyone in need of this amazing program, you can connect via social media or their website, and you can also donate to SoulPaws through its Crowdrise Campaign as it looks to expand its offerings.

Lori Ennis
Lori Ennis

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