Elise and Marigold: True LCS Northwest Teamwork

01.Spokane – The office door should read: Elise Hutchison, Therapist/Case Manager. Just below that, it should read: Marigold, Guide Dog/Therapist.

Marigold is new to the LCS Northwest Spokane office. She is the only Golden Retriever working there. Hutchison is legally blind, as she has a condition called Dominant Optic Atrophy. Marigold was trained as a guide dog and paired with Hutchison to help her navigate the world.

Marigold also has a talent for Hutchison’s job as a therapist. Clients relax more with Marigold around.

“One of my clients was having a tough time really opening up,” Hutchinson said of a recent therapy session. “Marigold went and sat with him, and the boy started sharing things with me. She helped us make progress.”

It’s easy to tell which job Marigold is doing. If her harness is on, she’s a guide dog, and you leave Marigold alone. When the harness is off, she’s a lovable pup who is full of energy, excited to run around and play, especially with Hutchison’s pet dog Primrose.

“There are times when therapists have rough days and they’ll stop by and ask if they can give Marigold a hug,” Hutchison said. “They leave feeling relaxed and ready to tackle the next big thing on their plate.”

Hutchison started working for LCS Northwest two years ago in the Sexual Assault and Family Trauma (SAFeT) Response Center as an intern. She worked part-time while attending Eastern Washington University, where she earned a master’s degree in clinical psychology this spring. She started working full-time as a therapist in April.

“It’s an honor and a privilege to work with people who are trying to build up resilience to get through some of the hardest moments in their lives,” Hutchison said.

The therapist is not deterred by her lack of vision. Instead of reading body language and facial expressions, Hutchison pays close attention to rate of speech and pitch changes. If a client’s voice pattern changes, that’s usually a sign of increasing anxiety or a change in emotion. Some clients relate better to Hutchinson because she is blind.

“With some people I can build instant rapport because they see a person who has overcome barriers, and it gives them a sense they can do the same,” Hutchison said. “What they’ve been through, I can’t even imagine.”

Marigold is her first guide dog. Most guide dogs are labs, but Guide Dogs for the Blind paired Hutchison with a golden retriever. Part of the pairing occurred because both Marigold and Hutchison take their jobs seriously. There are times they both need to relax. Having a guide dog has been a “life changing” event.

“I wonder why I didn’t do this sooner,” Hutchinson said. “Marigold gives me a sense of trust when I’m walking that I’m not going to fall. I can move more freely with her and feel confident in my travels.”

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