So, I think it’s really important, um, for folks to think about how do they
make the environment more secure and predictable. So, I, I spoke earlier about
trying to increase See Kao’s predictability to help with her anxiousness, and I
think that’s something really important for new dogs, either dogs that are
coming from a different environment, coming from a shelter having predictability
in their life and setting up a safe place, building their security are, are
[00:00:27] Allie: Welcome
to Enrichment for the Real World, the podcast devoted to improving the quality
of life of pets and their people through enrichment. We are your hosts, Allie
[00:00:45] Emily: …and I’m Emily Strong…
[00:00:46] Allie: …and
we are here to challenge and expand your view of what enrichment is, what
enrichment can be and what enrichment can do for you and the animals in your
lives. Let’s get started.
Thank you for joining us for today’s episode
of Enrichment for the Real World, and I want to thank you for rating,
reviewing, and subscribing wherever you listen to podcasts.
The voice you
heard at the beginning of today’s episode was our very own Tracy Harachi. Tracy
is a Certified Professional Dog Trainer, Knowledge Assessed, Certified Canine
Fitness Trainer, and Fit Paws Master Trainer. She joined the Pet Harmony team
in 2022 and applies years of experience focused on improving the wellbeing of
families through evidence-based interventions to the science behind training
and behavior change now focused on dogs.
In this episode,
you’re going to hear Emily and Tracy talk about swaddling a paraplegic dog,
predictability with a capital P, building security, and caregiver burden. All
right, here it is, today’s episode, Tracy Harachi: Caring for the People Who
Care for Pets.
[00:01:57] Emily: Okay, so tell us your name, your pronouns, and
It’s Tracy Harachi. My pronouns are she, her, and my pets are, uh, Takeshi, a
cat from Cambodia. See Kao, who is a dog from Thailand. And also, Boon Ngaam
also from Thailand.
[00:02:20] Emily: Awesome. And tell us your story and how you
got to where you are today.
Well, if I, I’ll keep this short, but the story does start maybe when I was in,
I think, maybe 6th or 7th grade, when I decided that maybe I wanted to study
pathology and animal behavior. And really got into that as a youngster. But
then paths kind of, kind of, I guess took a little segue, or took a little
detour, and I started instead focusing on kids and their families.
And that’s what I
ended up doing for graduate work and what I did for, uh, many, many years as a
research scientist, studying how kids develop problem behaviors and how to
support kids, their families in schools and communities. And I’m very happy to
report that I kind of got back on the animal, animal pathway, and started
learning more about particularly dogs. And very excited to have that pathway
link back and be working here at Pet Harmony as a behavior consultant.
[00:03:36] Emily: We’re also really happy to have you working
here at Pet Harmony as a behavior consultant, but I want to circle back to your
pets a little bit because your pets have really given you a gift, albeit a
dubious one in that they have some special needs that have given you knowledge
and skill to help clients in a way that a lot of behavior professionals have
never been in a position to acquire. So, I’d love for you to talk more about
your pets, their needs, and how you meet those needs.
Sure, we have kind of a unique pair of dogs currently. I think our, our cat who
thinks he’s a dog is probably not in the special needs category except that
he’s very special, and like I said he thinks he’s a dog. So, some years ago,
let’s see, maybe 2012, I started volunteering at a sanctuary in Thailand, and
that’s actually where I met our two current dogs. And it was, let’s see, the
sanctuary at that time had one special needs, at least physically special needs
dog, and actually went through quite a bit of effort to try to create a living
space for that dog who is paraplegic. Uh, most of the dog runs at that
sanctuary were on, you know, just in, on dirt and rocks, which would have been
very challenging for a paraplegic dog.
So, they, they
build a special run. And See Kao who, um, who is now living with us, was kind
of the second special needs dog that appeared there. So, she actually, um, was,
was dumped at the sanctuary after a villager came and said that she used to
walk, but now could no longer walk, and, and they felt they couldn’t take care
of her and wanted to leave her at the sanctuary.
So, when I first
met her, she was, she was dragging her hind end and it was, it was unclear what
had happened to her, and, really what her prognosis was. Skip ahead a few months,
and, um, when I came back to volunteer again, I found that she was actually
standing, and, um, and I asked, and she apparently had, had gone into the
nearby town, had some, had some water therapy, and was, was doing a lot better.
unfortunately did not get along well with the other paraplegic who bullied her
and, and actually bit her multiple times. So, we decided to hatch a plan to
migrate See Kao to the US, and at that point, we actually thought she was going
to a friend who was going to foster her, and we were going to find her home.
Long story short,
she was kind of a foster fail, and she ended up being a permanent resident of
our household. If you met See Kao now, she, she actually, um, doesn’t. appear
to have any physical limitations, um, though, I anticipate as she grows older
that she’s likely to have arthritis, and some other issues, given that she
probably did have a traumatic injury that caused her to be a paraplegic for at
least several months.
But she has
probably a lot of emotional special needs and is quite an anxious dog who has a
lot of, a lot of big scares in the world. Our other dog, Boon, Boon was found
by the founders of the sanctuary as they were going off to do an elephant
check, and they saw this little dog scooting across the road, and she was also
paraplegic, it appeared to be at that point, and they actually thought that her
spine was severed.
She ended up being
my roomie at the park, and again, sort of a foster fail. Brought her home and
thought we were going to be living with a paraplegic. Boon mostly is, mostly a
paraplegic, though, if she chooses to stand and walk, she actually has been
over the years, growing stronger abilities to do that.
As a result of
kind of both dogs, I started focusing a lot on canine fitness and ended up
getting some certifications from the University of Tennessee in canine fitness
it opened a kind of a, a different world related to animal behavior than I had
[00:07:37] Emily: And Boon requires some special care sometimes
as well, right? In addition to just caring for a dog who doesn’t always have
the best mobility.
Yes. Um, Boon has several different medical conditions, or not necessarily, um,
some diagnosed, some not quite diagnosed, and she over time has had some kind
of neuropathy, sort of some what appear to be neuro spasms. That I don’t know
the source of, but she ends up having kind of like a very serious Charlie
horse, and it’s hard to tell a dog who’s having a Charlie horse that that pain
and what she’s feeling is going to end soon.
So, I’ve tried a
variety of different things and talked to some different vets about what I
might be able to do, and what seemed to be the best was, um, I actually walk
Boone, she’s a small dog. Um, when I need to move her from point A to point B,
I put her into a baby carrier and hold her. And so, what I found, I think
partly because she finds a lot of, I think, a sense of security in that baby
carrier, when she starts having these muscle spasms, I swaddle her in the baby
carrier, and it’s a baby Moby, and hold her, which sometimes can be quite a few
hours. So, I have, I’ve watched a lot of bad TV at like 4 a. m. when Boon has
had a really bad episode. And maybe sometimes throws a wrench in my schedule as
I sit and watch bad TV holding, holding on to her till she calms down, she sort
of ends up having a panic attack, I think, in addition to the actual physical
sensation, I think, not knowing what’s going on sort of puts her into a panic
attack. And so, I feel like me swaddling her is probably as much addressing, I
think, the panic that she feels or is experiencing, um, and probably less, so
I’m don’t know that I’m doing anything for her actual spasms itself.
[00:09:31] Emily: Yeah, I mean, I obviously have to be careful
about assuming that the human experience and the dog experience are identical,
but I can speak to my experience as a human with chronic pain that, sometimes
addressing the panic is more important than dressing, addressing the physical
pain. Because it’s like you handle it, and you’re like, “Look at me. I’m
handling my chronic pain. I’ve got this. I’ve got this.” And then all of a
sudden your brain is like, “I definitely don’t got this. I need this to
stop now. Can I crawl out of my skin? What can I do?” And, for me as a human
anyway. being able to, like having the tools to process that panic and release
it is, even more helpful than, getting rid of that physical pain, so I love
that you have found a way to help her with that.
I think, I think this is a, an example to where a lot of stuff happens to Boon,
both because of her physical conditions, but also kind of over her, she was
probably hit, well, she was by a motorcycle when she was than a month old. And
so, she had a lot of sort of needed to be on crate rest, a lot of things
happened to her at a very young age. And so, I think what that’s really taught
me as a pet parent is how can I give her choice and agency, and that when I do
need to do medical things with her, we, I have sort of cues to give her, to let
her know, for example, when I need to pick her up, I don’t just scoop her up,
but I, she has a word we’d say “ready” and that means I got to pick
you up now, regardless of what you might want to do, we got to get up and
going. So, yeah, I think it’s really taught me a lot about how to create
situations where she has some predictability and knows when she has control
over the situation or when she’s, she’s not because we have to do a medical
[00:11:19] Emily: Yeah. Yeah. I love that you brought up the
predictability as well, because that’s part of it too, right? Having
predictability, having control, having the tools to process emotional
responses, and complete your stress response cycle. All of that is super important.
And you mentioned that See Kao has a lot of anxiety issues, what accommodations
do you make for See Kao and helping her to navigate the world?
So, uh, See Kao really needs a lot of predictability. Um, I think
predictability with a big capital P rules in her life. And that’s another thing
that I feel like I, I learned more through, through having her. Um, she and I
used to commute together, um, both dogs and I, because Boon has to go in and
get some specialized vet services. We had a weekly commute, and it took me a
long time to realize, even though the commute was, in my mind, as the human, a
predictable sequence of events, we went to the same place, we did the same
thing, we left on the same day of the week. It was still a lot of change for
See Kao and for a dog who I think experiences, a lot of just generalized
anxiety having that change, even though it was in my mind change that was
consistent, it was a lot for her, and I would watch her behavior. Um, I think
sort of dip during those times. And I finally decided, maybe it wasn’t in her
best interest to commute weekly with me. And so, she stays at home, and it’s
remarkable how much I think that has improved sort of her mental well-being of
not having that kind of change happen in her life. So, trying to create an
environment that’s much more predictable and consistent for her has been really
I think the other
thing that’s been really, I think, important for me to better understand as
I’ve grown in my knowledge about dogs is, is really understanding their body
language and particularly their, their whispers. And so, I can start seeing
when she is starting to feel a little uncomfortable and, and then I can
advocate and help her make better choices rather than her having to scream at
me, “Mom, I’m not comfortable now!” And then, the kind of a separate
issue is just, watching as she starts to relax and she starts to go, [ inhale]
takes a deep breath and is like, “Okay, I can, I can deal with this.”
And so, being able to see and observe that, and then support her, and reinforce
when she does that has been, I think, a really important thing for me to do as
a pet parent for her to support her, um, her welfare.
[00:13:53] Emily: I love all of that. So, in addition to your
own pets, you’ve also done a lot of work with dogs and maybe other species who
have been transported from other countries, who, because of that experience,
perhaps need some extra support. So, between your experience with your own
pets, transported pets, and client pets, what are some things that you wish
everybody who lives or works with anxious animals knew?
I think it’s really important to think about building security. A lot of people
ask me about, um, you know, they may be just traveling with their dogs, like,
to get to a vacation or something, as opposed to actually transporting them
from overseas. and asking, is that really stressful for the dog?
And I, and I have
to say that in most instances, I haven’t seen dogs being overtly stressed, but
I could imagine that that experience is, is challenging and then coming to a
new environment also like, “Whoa, where did I just land? ” So, I
think it’s really important, um, for folks to think about how do they make the
environment more secure and predictable.
So, I, I spoke
earlier about trying to increase See Kao’s predictability to help with her
anxiousness, and I think that’s something really important for new dogs, either
dogs that are coming from a different environment, coming from a shelter having
predictability in their life and setting up a safe place, building their
security are are important elements.
[00:15:22] Emily: I agree with you. It’s almost like we’re on
the same team or something. Um, yeah, great preach. So, you wrote an excellent two-part
series of articles for our blog about caregiver burden, and not going to lie,
Ellen and I specifically asked you to do it because we know that you have so
much firsthand experience with caregiver burden. So, I would love to dive more
deeply into that topic. What are some strategies that you use to gain
perspective, muster empathy and patience when you’re having to stay up until 4
a. m. with a dog, for example, and complete your stress response cycle when the
animals in your care, or a person in your care, for that matter, needs more
from you than you feel like you’re able to give at that time.
I think 1 of the, um, big lessons for me is really being able to tune into
myself, and I think it’s, sort of humorous because my background is in social
work. And I feel like I, I encourage other people to sort of be in tune with
themselves. Um, and so I feel like, I guess, looking in the mirror that I
needed to communicate that to myself and be able to see when, when was I kind
of at the brink. Because it’s really hard for me to deal with, Boon and See Kao
and all of their needs when I’m really at the bottom of my own pit, and so, um,
I think being able to say, “Okay, today is maybe not the day that we do,
we practice nail trims or something because I’m just not going to be maybe the
most patient that I need to be, and maybe I just need to not take something
extra on today.” Or I, or I need to ask, ask for help. I think that’s the
other key issue, is, is being able to recognize that asking for help is not, is
not a weakness. It’s not a character flaw, but it’s something that you really
need to do in order to stay afloat.
[00:17:24] Emily: Yes. And I will just say that I don’t think
anybody understands how, how much we appreciate you being on our team. Because
you are such an amazing advocate for Allie, and Ellen, and I to take care of
ourselves, and you’re always like checking in and being really thoughtful. And
it’s been, really great because obviously we care a lot about that, and we
teach other people, we share the tools that we’ve learned with other people,
and yet you’re always reminding us, not, not intentionally, like not, not in a
condescending way, but you’re always reminding and we have to practice what we
preach, by you prompting us to take care of ourselves and check in and that has
been such a gift.
I can’t even tell
you how, how much. that has been a value add to our team, and I love how much
you take care of us and take care of yourself and advocate for everybody taking
care of themselves, so thank you for that. Do you have any management
strategies that you use and can share with others to make caregiving easier?
I think it’s important to talk with your team. Often with like special needs
dogs you’re working not only maybe just with a vet, but you may have other
people like somebody comes in and helps do a pet sitting or gives you a respite
So, um, you know,
one is building up a team, it’s not something that you have to do all yourself.
It’s also talking with your team, like I may, you may have a treatment that
you, you’re being asked to do certain times a day, and it may mean talking to
your vet to say, “Is there a way that I can do this that fits better either
with my schedule?” Or, or whatever. So, I think building a team, and, and
talking with the team to figure out what’s the most efficient and effective way
to accomplish your goals without sort of, you know, killing yourself in the
[00:19:24] Emily: Yes, those have all been really helpful tools
for us as well. And when I say us, I mean the business owners, right? Allie,
Ellen and myself. So yeah, thank you for that.
advice. All right. So, at the end of every interview, I like to ask everybody
the same questions. Um, so we’re going to lead into those right now. The first
one is what is one thing you wish people knew about either this topic, your
profession or enrichment? Your choice.
I think what I would like to say, or what I would wish people would think about
more, um, because I just seem to be reading this a lot on social media lately,
that, like enrichment is not an activity, but that enrichment is something that
addresses the needs of the animal so that they can perform species typical
So, it’s not the
food puzzle itself or in it by itself, but rather it’s a food puzzle that
perhaps is a tool to help us meet the needs of, say, a dog or whatever. So,
let’s say, like, I guess if you’re trying to create, we talked earlier about,
building security and you’re wanting to create a safe space for your newly
adopted dog and increase its sense of security. You could use, say, a food
puzzle or a frozen slow feeder with some extra yummy stuff, put it in their bed
so that more warm feelings and positive associations with that space, which
will help build security in that location.
So again, it’s, it’s
a tool that helps us get to a goal. So, I, and I guess that, that also brings
me to the goal and, and being outcome focused. So, I feel like we often just,
people are saying, “Oh, let’s do enrichment!” And they’re not
thinking of it as a tool and what is the outcome that they’re trying to
address, and whether they’re measuring whether that outcome is being met or
not, so I’d love to see more of that in the field.
[00:21:15] Emily: Me too. I agree. What is one thing you’d love
to see improved in your field.
Being more outcomes focused, and I guess that comes from years of being a
researcher focused on outcomes. It’s hard for me not to sort of take multiple
decades of thinking that way into our profession and thinking about how do we,
what are the outcomes that we’re wanting to reach, and whether the different
strategies that we’re using, whether it’s some type of enrichment is getting us
to the To that goal or to that outcome, and if it’s not, we need to really be
thinking about what, what should we do differently?
[00:21:51] Emily: Yes. I’m obviously. Very passionate about that
as well. So once again, just super agree with you. And the last question is
what do you love about what you do?
I love getting to work with people and their pets, so having had a life as a
social worker and thinking about, the welfare of people, particularly the
welfare of kids and families, I love being able to take all that, I guess,
thinking and passion I had for that, and to bring that into, into this
profession and think about how can I support pet parents who may, like me, have
some caregiver burden, or some challenging pets.
And so, I love
also being able to problem solve and think creatively about what is, what is
the issue here for the pet, for the parent? How can we work together to, to
solve that? So, it’s kind of like a big puzzle to me, and I really, I enjoy
trying to tackle those puzzles.
[00:22:49] Emily: Excellent. Well, normally we would ask people
as a last question, where can they find you and what are you up to? But they
can find you here at Pet Harmony if they want to work with you, and what you’re
up to is being a behavior consultant for us. So, I don’t need to ask you that
question, but thank you so much for sharing some of your history, your time,
your expertise, because we want more people to get to benefit from your
knowledge, and your skill, and your compassion, other than just the people in
our team and our own clients. So, thank you for being here, Tracy.
[00:23:23] Allie: Y’all,
I feel so fortunate to have Tracy on our team, she is just as wonderful of a
human in real life as she sounds in this interview, and I’m so, so glad that
you got to experience her, her knowledge, her expertise. All of the things. So,
grateful that she is on our team. Thank you, Tracy, for everything that you do.
Next week, we will be talking with Kyle Hetzel about new alternatives to old
Thank you for
listening. You can find us at petharmonytraining.com and @petharmonytraining on
Facebook and Instagram, and also @petharmonypro on Instagram for those of you
who are behavioral professionals. As always links to everything we discussed in
this episode are in the show notes and a reminder to please rate, review and
subscribe wherever you listen to podcasts a special thank you to Ellen Yoakum
for editing this episode, our intro music is from Penguin Music on Pixabay.
Thank you for
listening and happy training.