Blog

Text Size: 
 

Passing through The Next Door

Dogs help women step into freedom from addiction

BY AMANDA HARDESTY ALLEN
PHOTOS COURTESY THE NEXT DOOR

This article first appeared in our Feb/Mar 2012 issue. This is a digital reprint.

Pictured: Rudy, a Cocker Spaniel, with Cindy Sneed--her guardian and the Chief Clinical Officer at The Next Door.

“You haven’t fully appreciated that connection between animals and humans until you have personally witnessed a woman enter TND in her prison uniform immediately upon her release, put her belongings down and lean in to receive her official warm, wiggly welcome from Rudy. It is not uncommon for Rudy’s warmth to bring the women to literal tears.” – Cindy Sneed, Chief Clinical Officer at The Next Door

When Cindy Sneed’s beloved Cocker Spaniel passed away, she could hardly imagine the impact her four-legged friend had made on everyone around her. After Maddie’s passing, Sneed—the Chief Clinical Officer at The Next Door (TND) in Nashville—returned to find her office covered in handmade cards created by the facility’s female residents. She was overwhelmed by the gesture, which showed a softer side to the women who come to TND on the heels of incarceration, homelessness and other situations, and who all suffer from some type of addiction.

When Sneed’s husband presented her with a Cocker Spaniel puppy a couple of years later, it was a no brainer that the new pup would accompany her to work as well. Rudy soon became a fixture at the house and has rightfully earned her place as the unofficial mascot. “Rudy doesn’t care about the color of your skin, where you came from or what you have done in the past,” Sneed says. “She is fully present in every moment with you and represents unconditional love.”
Rudy is the most well known of dogs that come to TND to help ease the stress of transition for its residents. “More of the women know her name than mine,” laughs Sneed. Joining the Cocker Spaniel are Finley and Molly, two chocolate Labrador Retrievers. Opie is a Miniature Schnauzer and Bandit and Gracie are a Border Terrier and an Italian Greyhound, respectively. The dogs even have their own sign-in board, alerting residents to their presence.

History of The Next Door

TND was formally incorporated as the Downtown Ministry Center in 2003. It earned the moniker “The Next Door” symbolizing passing through a door into hope and freedom. Though TND aims to serve all women, they primarily work with the uninsured, who would otherwise struggle with finding treatment options. Catherine Minchey, Residential Transition Center Program Manager, goes into prisons to tell inmates about the program and most of the women are referred directly from the legal system in some manner. “This is about restoring women to wholeness and hope,” remarks Minchey. “Some people connect better with animals than with people, and I think it helps when they realize the highest authority has a dog in her office.”

TND offers two separate programs. One is for primary treatment for addictions and the other is the Residential Transition Center. “Often, these women enter TND with only the clothes on their back, either from when they were initially arrested or standard prison-issued clothing,” explains Sneed. “The whole experience upon arrival is very overwhelming. It is a big adjustment that comes with a lot of anxiety. These women have suffered serious breaches of trust.” And that, precisely, is where Rudy shines. With her non-stop wiggle and white goatee, she helps break the ice with new arrivals.

Diane Winston, a former resident, now works as a Peer Recovery Specialist for the organization that helped her regain her life. Once homeless, Winston remembers what it was like to come to TND for the first time. “Watching how the staff cared for us wasn’t enough,” she said. “It wasn’t until I saw the dog that I realized this was really going to be okay.”

Daily routine and learning responsibility

The women entering the program are immediately introduced into a normal routine. They receive treatment for their addictions and are expected to begin searching for, and then acquiring, a job. Catherine Hardin is the Workforce Development Specialist and also “mom” to Finley the chocolate lab. She takes a skill assessment of each of the women. “They’ll say they don’t have any skills, that they can’t do anything. But everyone can do something. I help them realize their strengths and marketable skills.” She helps residents create resumes and holds mock interviews to prepare them for re-entry in to the workforce. She’s seen first-hand how the residents light up when they see the dogs.

While Rudy helps to ease tension for the residents, she provides peace for the staff as well. “This is an intense job,” says Kim Burchett, Director of The Next Door Treatment Services. “We hear intense stories about all these women have gone through. These dogs provide calmness.” TND can house up to 40 women and stays full year-round. The organization recently hit the 1000th resident mark. “You haven’t fully appreciated that connection between animals and humans until you have personally witnessed a woman enter TND in her prison uniform immediately upon her release, put her belongings down and lean in to receive her official warm, wiggly welcome from Rudy. It is not uncommon for Rudy’s warmth to bring the women to literal tears,” says Sneed.

Rudy not only serves as a spirit lifter, but also teaches residents responsibility and encourages teamwork. “The women can really enjoy taking care of something,” says Hardin. Winston echoes the sentiment because the women not only learn respect for the pets but respect for the guardians as well.

Changing Minds and Hearts

Rudy has managed to make dog lovers out of just about everyone at TND—including Residential Transition Center Case Manager, Raime Siler. “I’ve never been a dog person,” she says as she pets Rudy. “This girl has changed my mind though. You can’t deny the effect she has. She provides such a sense of safety. She allows the women to be who they are. She allows them to be vulnerable without passing judgment.” The staff sometimes hears stories about how a dog has protected a resident, often in a domestic violence situation. And even for those who have had bad experiences with dogs, or no experience at all, Rudy is a “safe place” to turn for those women.

TND resident Jill agrees. Formerly homeless, Jill just completed the six-month program at TND. She suffers from alcoholism and lost her husband of 23 years while living on the streets. “I just couldn’t imagine this place without Rudy. I can be having a really down day and seeing her just makes me feel good. I really look forward to it,” she says.
Somehow, Rudy, who even has her own photo identification badge, doesn’t let all of the attention go to her head. “She simply just wants to go see her ladies,” says Sneed, “and then sleep all the way home.” 

This article first appeared in our Feb/Mar 2012 issue. This is a digital reprint.


 

comments powered by Disqus