Firefly Counseling Services:Care,Education,Integration
Firefly Counseling Services:Care,Education,Integration

Animal Assisted Therapy

Apollo, CGC


Handler: Michelle M. Pliske, MSW LCSW RPT-S (Apollo works in session only with his trained and certified handler)

Firefly Counseling Services, P.C.

Child, Adolescent and Adult Therapeutic Support



Handler: Lindsay Balboa, MSSW LCSW (Olive works in session only with her trained and certified handler)

Firefly Counseling Services, P.C.

Child and Family Therapy



Handler: Michelle Pliske, MSW LCSW RPT-S

Firefly Counseling Services, P.C.

Child, Adolescent and Adult Therapeutic Support



Animal Assisted Therapy


Animal Assisted Therapy (AAT) has built upon the benefits of the human-animal bond in order to assist the therapeutic process in a variety of settings with children, adolescents and adults. The Delta Society (2004) defined AAT as "a goal directed intervention in which an animal meeting specific criteria is an integral part of the treatment process. AAT is delivered and/or directed by a health service provider working within the scope of their profession. AAT is designed to promote improvement in human physical, social, emotional and/or cognitive functioning."


Studies of AAT have supported improvement in the health and well-being of individuals and groups struggling with autism, posttraumatic stress disorder, conflict within families, chronic medical conditions, self-esteem, developmental disabilities, anger management, anxiety and depression.


“Happiness is a warm puppy.”
-Charles M. Schultz (cartoonist, Peanuts)


Apollo, Olive & Mercury


Apollo was generously donated to Firefly Counseling Services, P.C. by Trisha Ferris who owns and operates Sunset Goldens of Oregon. She breeds and raises golden retrievers who are specifically selected for service work. Trisha in association with other breeders and trainers through the Delta Society hand selected Apollo for this work based on his temperament and characteristics. More information can be located about Sunset Goldens of Oregon from: Apollo has completed his canine good citizen certification through the AKC (American Kennel Club) and has completed his training in animal assisted neurobiologically-informed play therapy (AANPT) through the certification program at Firefly Counseling Services, P.C.


Olive was adopted through Umpqua Valley Kennels in Drain, Oregon. Olive's handler, Lindsay Balboa, MSSW LCSW and completed her post-graduation certificate through the University of Denver's Animal Assisted Human Health Program. Olive works with children through animal assisted neurobiologically-informed play therapy. She is currently in training and working towards her certification as a canine good citizen through the AKC (American Kennel Club) and the certification program with the Firefly Insitute of Research and Education for Animal Assisted Human Health.


Mercury was adopted from a family in Hermiston, Oregon. Mercury's handler, Michelle Pliske, MSW LCSW RPT-S completed her post-graduate training and certification through the University of Denver's Animal Assisted Human Health Program. Mercury works with children, teens and adults. Mercury is working towards his canine good citizen certification through the AKC (American Kennel Club) and is in the certification process through the Firefly Institute of Research and Education for Animal Assisted Human Health. 


Training Processes, Education and Clinic Policies


Apollo, Olive and Mercury are therapy dogs and work exclusively at Firefly Counseling Services, P.C. (FCSPC) in session with their handlers, Michelle Pliske and Lindsay Balboa. Apollo is a registered golden retriever with the American Kennel Club and has completed his Canine Good Citizen certification through the American Kennel Club providing him with the CGC designation. Mercury and Olive are in the process of achieving their Canine Good Citizen certifications. Firefly Counseling Services handlers and trainers have achieved credentialing and met the criteria or standards for completion or are within the process of completing a program under supervision for animal assisted human health. Therapy dogs and their handlers must meet specific criteria to be recognized and certified as a Therapy Dog and Handler team. FCSPC has developed an innovative program founded within evidenced based practice and research blending the theories and practice of animal assisted human health, interpersonal neurobiology and play therapy practices for animal assisted neurobiologically-informed play therapy. This brings together the science and physiology of nervous system regulation with expressive arts in the context of animal assisted interventions. Canines meeting this certification process are recognized by the AKC with their certification as canine good citizens certification (CGC) and therapists have a masters degree in mental health, license to practice independently, recognized by the association for play therapy board as a registered play therapist or registered play therapy supervisor and have completed post-graduate training and coursework in animal assisted human health and interpersonal neurobiology from recognized institutions.


Apollo, CGC being awarded his Canine Good Citizen Certification (shown with handler Michelle Pliske, MSW LCSW RPT-S



Michelle Pliske, MSW LCSW RPT-S is Apollo and Mercury's handler and Lindsay Balboa, MSSW LCSW is Olive's handler. They completed their training for AAT through the University of Denver Animal Assisted Human Health Therapy program. This program provides education and training to mental health professionals incorporating AAT into their clinical practice. The program focuses on current literature and research in the field, applications of AAT, animal welfare and ethical considerations for practice. More information about this program can be located at:



Michelle with Apollo at 8 weeks beginning training for AANPT certification
Lindsay Balboa with Olive


Firefly Counseling Services, P.C. is committed to maintaining the health and safety of all persons. Should you or your child have an allergy or fear of dogs please notify your therapist of your concerns. The clinic location are routinely cleaned and maintained to help control for potential allergens or healthcare related issues. 


Apollo, Olive and Mercury's veterinary care is closely monitored and managed through a local veterinarian. Both dogs are up to date on all vaccinations and has been given a clean bill of health.


Apollo, Olive and Mercury currently work 2-3 days/week to maintain their physical health and well-being. We are committed to ensuring no dog is overly stressed or over-worked and as a result they have days off. If you are interested in knowing what days Apollo, Olive or Mercury will be at our location please ask your therapist to provide you with their schedule. Apollo, Olive and Mercury's schedule are subject to change depending upon a variety of factors. We will do our best to notify you of any schedule changes.


Apollo, CGC on the job



Apollo, Olive and Mercury's Work with Children and Animal Assisted Neurobiologically-Informed Play Therapy Practice:


-"It's really soothing knowing you have someone with you during hard times especially when they are warm and fluffy. Apollo helps me feel better" -David, age 8


Apollo, Olive and Mercury's work within a play therapy setting with their handlers. Michelle is a registered play therapy supervisor through the Association for Play Therapy Lindsay is working towards her certification in play therapy practices.  All handlers have completed their formal training in Animal Assisted Human Health through the University of Denver Graduate School of Social Work. Firefly Counseling Services has founded and developed a program for combining play therapy practices, neuroscience research and animal assisted human health.


Animal Assisted Neurobiologically-Informed Play Therapy is defined as:

           Animal Assisted Neurobiologically-Informed Play Therapy (AANPT) is a way of being in a harmonious relationship with both a child client and animal partner. AANPT creates a triangle in which an animal meeting specific criteria becomes an integral part of the treatment process. Animals assist trained and certified play therapists in providing children a safe and nurturing space for empathy building, stress reduction, assisting in emotional regulation, engagement in theory of mind and the building of mastery. AANPT provides children with the opportunity to integrate the negative effects of perceived challenges or adverse experiences reestablishing a sense of power and control within their lives (Pliske, 2017). 



The features of AANPT maintain ethics and welfare for both the child and animal within the interaction. Dogs integrate well into a play therapy setting with children for a variety of reasons. Children from most cultures are drawn to dogs and enjoy interacting with them (Van Fleet, 2007). Dogs are playful and tap into a child's natural connection and language for problem solving and understanding the world through play. Dogs are accepting and non-judgmental in their relationship with people which allows a child to be himself or herself freely without worry. Dogs show great empathy and as one child stated "Apollo is such a great listener. He really cares about what I'm saying!" -boy, age 7. -or- "I can feel my whole body be better when I breath and Apollo breath together" -girl, age 4. Dogs enjoy physical contact; touch is an important kinesthetic quality for children within the medium of play and learning calming or regulation skills. Therapists certified in AANPT learn to help children make associations with their physiology (nervous system states, which are mirrored by the dog in session) bringing their system up or down depending upon the need. This builds mastery and control for regulation and coping with heightened states of distress (anger, anxiety, panic, fear, etc) or with lowered states of distress (fatigue, depression, disconnection, withdrawal, etc).


Dogs can often have the same behavior or social problems as children such as trouble following directions, hyperactivity, anxiety or shyness. Children find that they learn how to 'help the dog' thereby helping themselves. Dogs are also social animals and focus on attachment and relationship. They align themselves with humans and have the ability to engage and connect with children within the play therapy context bringing confidence and increased self-worth along with connection to children's lives.


Apollo, Olive and Mercury's Work with Adolescents and Animal Assisted Therapy


Animal Assisted Therapy (AAT) has shown to be useful in working with adolescents. Similary to work with children the goal of AAT is to help strengthen and promote teens’ emotional, cognitive, and social functioning. Apollo, Olive and Petra help teens to openly engage in the treatment process, to gain insight into their own behaviors, thoughts and emotions, to increase communication skills, improve relationships, as well as to improve their sense of social awareness and build greater social skills.


Animal Assisted Therapy can help teens to feel less stressed, decrease anxiety and depression, open up within the counseling process, gain confidence and self-esteem.  Teens can also grow in their empathy toward others as well as their willingness to take responsibility for their own actions.  Finally, Animal Assisted Therapy provides teens with an enjoyable, comforting aspect to their treatment process, which is especially powerful during what can be a very challenging time. 


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