A therapist, a comedian and a dog are walking along the street. There is no climax here – this is dog walking therapy.
Somewhere on a hilly street in Culver City, clinical psychologist Ildiko Tabori walks with his certified therapy dog, a mix of Chihuahua and Johnny Carson’s poodle, with a friend – or so it seems from the outside. Pandemic masks, Tabori talks to a patient, quite possibly a comedian, about their state of life.
“I can always tell how someone is feeling by the way they hold the leash and interact with the dog,” Tabori said. “When the patient is in a good location, he talks to the dog a lot while walking. When they are in a bad mood, they are at first less patient with him. “
Ever since she was hired by Laugh Factory on Sunset Boulevard as a comedy club therapist in 2011, her client list has served almost exclusively Los Angeles stars and up-and-coming LA comedians. For years, comedy clients have sat with her in the office on the third floor of the Laugh Factory on an old-fashioned red couch that once belonged to Groucho Marx. In recent years, she has begun doing sofa sessions at her Culver City home.
Although he never went on stage to tell an anecdote, Tabori’s therapy sessions have become a meticulously used resource in the comedy community.
“The comics have no health insurance and Dr. Tabori is struggling to provide much-needed services to a group of people who clearly need therapy, ”says comedian Grant Cotter. “As a comedian, I thought that if I talked about my troubles on stage, everything would be fine. Sometimes you just need a different outlet. I am grateful to the Laughter Factory and [owner] Jamie Masada for putting me in touch with her. “
Actor, writer and comedian Suli McCullough began dating Tabori when he was going through rough times in his life, asking himself the question of staying in business. “There were a lot of red flags that she helped me see and change. I was not in a good mood at all and she was needed to help me work with some of my things. In fact, I should probably go back to therapy because I feel like I may have been too isolated during the pandemic, ”McCullough admits.
Finding new ways to meet needs during (and after) a pandemic has become a must for Tabori’s business. Enter: Rescue Animal-Turned Super Dog Therapist, Johnny Carson.
In 2015, while looking for a larger breed of dog, Tabori’s daughter spotted a one-year-old puppy at the Adopt and Shop Rescue in Culver City. You didn’t have to beg and beg too much to switch from a big dog to a small one because, as the story goes, it was love at first sight.
When the pandemic broke out, Johnny Carson immediately became Tabori’s therapy dog.
“Some of my patients still wanted personal sessions early in the pandemic, but I was worried because I only worked in my home office and wasn’t sure if I wanted people in my home so early,” Tabori said. “So I started dog walking therapy – my patients hold the leash, I pick up the poop, and we walk around my hilly area, talking.”
The dog’s presence with the patients and his love of petting reduced anxiety and improved their mood during the session. The sensation was obviously mutual.
“Johnny Carson recognized the sound of my patients’ cars even before they parked. He gets very excited and hangs at the door with his ultra-high squeak that doesn’t subside until I open it and let him run to greet the patient, literally running in circles around him. He is also incredibly agile and prone to falling into these strange movements. I have a patient who calls him Cirque du Chien [Circus of the Dog], “ Tabori said.
For years, four-legged friends have been used to provide mental health care because petting can reduce anxiety and stress, it is a natural mood boost, and it gives you something to take care of.
“Canine therapy allows you to explore and process feelings in a more relaxed environment, which can sometimes seem intimidating within the therapy room,” explains Tabori. “Johnny Carson is like the canine version of that person who makes you feel like you are the only person around. He is always somewhere during the session as the cutest piece of equipment. “
Dr. Steven Novella, host of the Strange Cures program on SiriusXM, where he is known as Dr. Steve, has confirmed that there is something about the unconditional nature of love and attention in dogs that makes them ideal therapy animals. “When we are upset, our dogs come up to us. They do not judge us, at least in the way we can define, and they do not try to fix anything. They just offer themselves as consolation. “ he said.
During the pandemic, the use of therapy dogs in hospitals dropped significantly due to fewer visitors and an increased focus on disinfecting hospital wards. Meanwhile, while walking outdoors in the Los Angeles area of Tabori, Johnny Carson climbs the hills, cheering up and taking frequent breaks to lift his leg.
“People open up a lot when we walk the dog and it immediately changes focus,” Tabori said. “In addition, at one time, Johnny Carson takes forever to calm down, because he has to find the right blade of grass to move on. So, as comedians do, now they say that Johnny Carson reads his “written letter” and falls into someone’s “Easter egg,” the therapist said with a laugh. “Of course, when he pees on the wall, it’s now P-casso.”
Now imagine if you could take your dog with you to therapy – oh wait – you can. The more, the more fun Tabori conducts collective dog walking therapy. As long as your dog gets along with others, they can join. “I have a couple that I see individually who bring their dogs. These three chihuahua mixes just walk around in a small package.
Of course, with comedians as patients, it’s worth laughing at the severity of the problems they need to take off their shoulders. Tabori admits, “All comedians who create an experience give the dog the ‘voice of Johnny Carson.’ Oddly enough, her cat, Eartha Kitty, does not make a mental impression of the amazing Eartha Kitt. Ultimately, he looks more like Samuel L. Jackson. There is no cat walking therapy, but Erta Kitty appears periodically during a traditional therapy session. “Together with the dog and my patient, it becomes a group therapy. “
Tabori says she can see the progress her patients have made during the session as they begin to interact more with the dog towards the end of the walk.
Novella adds: “I have seen patients with severe dementia who have little or no response to treatment, or even those who are agitated and unresponsive, respond positively to therapy dogs in a nursing facility.” It seems that petting a dog is built into our psyche, at least in areas where dogs as pets are common. “
The addition of dog walking therapy to her “menu” has made a splash among her comedy patients, Tabori says. If you are a dog lover, how could this not be? “Now I leave everything to the discretion of the client. Do you want to chat online? Do you want to come in and sit down? Do you want to take your dog for a walk? The only thing that changes is where I sit, because the dog is happy everywhere. ”