Hatfield dog becomes qualified therapist

A SHIH TZU from Hatfield has become possibly the world's first canine therapist, after passing a training course in personal development alongside her owner, Annie Kaszina

SHARON Kornfeld greets me at the door of her home in Hatfield and leads me to the living room.

A qualified alternative therapist, Sharon helps people overcome anxiety, stress, exam nerves and fears about public speaking, to name but a few things.

She also likes chew toys, walks and sleeping at the foot of the bed.

That's because Sharon Kornfeld is actually a 13-year-old Shih Tzu, and is quite possibly the world's first ever canine therapist, having recently attended, and passed, a personal development course along with her owner, Annie Kaszina.

"Sharon models relaxed behaviour," said Annie. "She helps put people at ease, and that helps them listen to alternative points of view."

Annie, an NLP master practitioner, coach and motivational speaker, discovered Sharon's capacity for healing when several clients remarked on the calming atmosphere her pet added to the room. Perhaps unsurprisingly, Sharon specialises in helping people overcome dog phobias.

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"Her most remarkable achievement was a woman with a dog phobia who ended up loving her daughter's Dogue de Bordeaux (a large Mastiff)," said Annie.

Last month, Annie took Sharon on a training course, an event which resulted in both of them leaving with certificates.

If you're anything like me, then you might greet the news of a dog becoming a certified therapist as final proof that holistic medicine was nothing more than 21st century hokum.

But try telling that to some of Annie and Sharon's clients.

John came to Annie to help him face an impending medical procedure.

"When I first went to see Annie, I wasn't quite prepared for meeting Sharon," he said. "I hadn't imagined a dog as part of the therapeutic process but Sharon's presence made me feel quite relaxed from the outset, and she has been involved in most of our meetings.

"Generally, she played a passive role but, occasionally, she would make a friendly contribution - a sniff, a shake, or just a look - that made me stop to think and then see things in a new light."

Maria had a fear of public speaking, and came to Annie for help. She said: "Joking aside, I think the presence of a friendly and characterful dog helped contribute to a relaxed atmosphere and made the experience less clinical and more light-hearted which I'm sure helped its effectiveness," she said.

Although Sharon might add a light-hearted approach to alternative therapy, Annie emphasises that she takes her clients and their issues seriously.

"I love helping people feel more positive about themselves," Annie said. "You have to be respectful of the person you are.

She added: "If you're built like a Shih Tzu, you can't expect to work like a sheepdog!"

For more information about Annie, visit www.anniekaszina.com