A Cat’s Purpose

A Cat’s Purpose

A Cat’s Purpose

A Cat’s Purpose

This is a blog post about many themes: Emotional Support Animals, parenting, Animal Assisted Therapy, adoption, transition, Autism, grief, and a derived meaning that speaks to you. It was hard for me to decide what I want my message to be, what I hope to learn by teaching. This is an emotional piece, because I am processing the eight years since my son joined our family as he prepares for his next steps out in the world. However, given the recent eerily-timed passing of my cat, Isabella, and the shared grief I have for both family members leaving, it feels most important to teach about the soul contracts we have with our animals. This a tribute to you, Izzy, my courageous feline friend.

Our animals find us for a reason.  Most people will share that their pet chose them. We can all describe the moment we met our cat, dog, horse, and how we knew they were “the one.” One lesson that has held true in the last two decades of being an Animal Assisted Therapist is that all of our family members, the fluffy, cute ones included, have a lesson for us.  We have soul contracts together that are meant to grow us as humans and help us become better versions of ourselves.  Some lessons are subtle and less obvious, others become more apparent over time, still others are mind-blowing from the get-go.  Now that I am reflecting on sweet Isabella’s time with us and the huge hole she has left in our hearts and home after her passing, her mission is clear.

When Mark and I met, we had many dreams of traveling, owning a farm, sharing our mutual love of working with teenagers, and yes, we both wanted to parent children of our own.  We said we wanted to “birth one and adopt one.” Soon after getting married in 2014, an opportunity arose through one of my colleagues to take foster care classes and join the many Boulder families in the foster-to-adopt community.  We began those classes in January of 2015, the same month we adopted our feline family members, Prisca and Isabella. 

Isabella, a regal tuxedo gal, was very outgoing in the shelter. Although she was ten years old, her big personality did not show it, as she was very talkative with her signature, “Reh,” responses.  Her story caught our hearts, as she had lived with the same family since she was a kitten, adopted from the very shelter they returned her to ten years later.  She was born in 2004, the year unbeknownst to us, our future son was also born. The same year Mark and I both (separately) moved to Colorado.

Upon taking Izzy home, she retreated into herself. She had an upper respiratory infection, which did not help her transition, and her previous mom wrote a detailed note about how hard she was to please. We were so moved by her story of being given up due to a new baby in the home whom allegedly, “Izzy just didn’t like,” that we were motivated to learn what she needed. Per the advice of the shelter, we put each new cat in their own room to get used to our house. We used the kids’ rooms that we hoped to one day fill with human children. Unknowingly, the room Izzy moved into would later become our son Theo’s room.

Mark quickly realized that Izzy was a burrower; so ready to be a dad and eager to please, he slept in there with her as she purred happily in his sleeping bag. However, when we transitioned the cats into the entire house, Izzy was unwaveringly drawn to me, a fellow High Sensitive, and slept under my covers. It seemed I was her mission.

Fast forward a few short months to March, when we were connected in a private foster situation with our soon-to-be son, Theo, an 11-year-old boy with a laundry list of traumas. We spent our weekend days with Theo in order to get to know him. Theo and his biological sister from Ukraine were originally adopted by his second family when he was three years old; but like Izzy, his family tried many things to help him thrive, to no avail. Again, similar to Izzy, after trying for many years, they were not the right fit for him and wanted him to have an opportunity to get his needs met with a forever family.  Given Mark is a special education teacher with a passion for teens on the Autism Spectrum, and that I shared that skillset and love, we were inspired to be Theo’s forever family, to unlock his code in the hopes that he could grow up happy and stable.

While Izzy continued to bond more with me, seeking my lap any chance she could–a tactic I would later learn was deliberate to calm me–Theo set out to test our love and commitment at every turn.  Theo had not yet been diagnosed with Autism Spectrum Disorder, only ADHD, so he was receiving very little support at school which he reported “hating,” and he ran circles around every therapist we brought in. Mark and I exhausted ourselves trying to validate and support him, only causing him to fight harder and become more aggressive, as one with Reactive Attachment Disorder does. Izzy never left our room because she was so sensitive to the energy in the house, but she did not falter in her support for me. No emotion I felt would deter her.

Out of respect for our son, I will not go into more detail, but at one point we questioned our ability to help him and considered a therapeutic residential setting. After several years, we finally found a godsend of a therapeutic mentor, April, and our lives started to stabilize. A well-timed, leap-of-faith move to our farm in Longmont, also proved pivotal. Theo started high school and began getting A’s, while playing several team sports. He now “loved” school. His tense posture loosened as he began to smile his way through his days. We somehow found a reset button.

Given Izzy’s sensitivity, one would think that she would have retreated under all of the changes. Quite the opposite, she was my rock. Research shows that cats and dogs lower blood pressure. Izzy would sit on me for hours and when we had a stressful event, she would sleep on my chest diligently.  I have many clients with Emotional Support Animals to help regulate them, but Izzy’s unrelenting support showed me just how beneficial these intuitive creatures can be.

Perhaps one of the biggest tests of all to Theo’s bond to our family and Izzy’s faithfulness was when we finally were blessed with a pregnancy. With both Theo and Izzy’s previous histories of disrupted family placements, we were concerned. Would we lose all peaceful ground by challenging Theo’s attachment and Autism and by overwhelming Izzy with a past trigger?

Not only did Theo welcome the change, but Izzy was remarkably resilient, also, showing us that we had provided them with what they needed. Izzy even signaled my labor. Two nights before I went into labor a week early, Izzy became relentless and worried as she slept on my chest. I later discovered that my normally low blood pressure was over 200 and I was in danger of a life-threatening pregnancy condition. Izzy sensed it and tried to lower my blood pressure. 

Both Izzy and Theo barely missed a beat with the new baby. Shockingly, Theo was thankful to have new life in the house since his parents were “old and boring” and Izzy laid on top of me while I fed her human sister. As the baby became old enough, Izzy patiently let the baby pet her.

All was well for eighteen months.  Izzy was diagnosed with kidney disease years before the baby was born, but showed no signs of deterioration until Thanksgiving, two months before we found a service that could help Theo live semi-independently. Having graduated from Longmont High and loving working full-time, Theo started to get the itch to be out on his own, while Izzy’s light started to fade. By January, both Izzy and Theo regressed in their happiness and zest for life. Theo made it clear we had to help him move forward in life, while Izzy said the opposite.

It was early February when Izzy let us know she was ready to make her journey, the same exact month that we found a program that would assist in Theo’s next steps in his journey.  That program, Elevated Supports, would use Theo’s Developmental Disability Waiver to help fund an apartment where he has a mentor to help him clean, grocery shop, and monitor his medications. While we were cautiously excited at the possibility of a healthy transition as a family into Theo’s adulthood independence, we were simultaneously overwhelmed with the grief of losing Izzy, such a huge healer in a tiny body. 

The juxtaposition of the two losses, one for a cat we would never again get the physical comfort of, one for a beautiful young man who was claiming his life and success, humbles me. As an Animal Assisted Therapist, I have seen many animals leave their person’s life at an important time: when their person is ready for the next opportunity; when their person finds their partner, job, new home; etc. My college cat was with me for 18 years until the month before I married Mark.  Izzy picked up the baton and was clearly a nanny, overseeing our transition into parenthood. She grounded us and kept diligent watch over me until our dream of “birthing one and adopting one,” was realized.  Despite her kidney disease, her body and spirit thrived right up until the moment that her human sibling, Theo, was ready to make his journey, also.

While it may appear that everything is sunshine and roses, we still face challenges. There are many unknowns that we will all have to learn and grow from as Theo begins to navigate his new world. In my grief, I recognize that our animals are the best gift we are given, but always taken far too soon. I need my sweet girl now more than ever as I prepare to not hear my son getting up for school, not whispering good night when he closes the door opposite of ours, as he has done for eight of the fullest years of my life. But these furry family members get inside of us and change our DNA. They leave pawprints on our hearts and imprint our souls forever.

I believe that Izzy is now guiding and supporting us from her spirit form. I hope that I can be the rock that she was, that in spite of my sensitivity and emotionality, I can stay solid for my people and regulate when they need it the most. I hope I can “Reh” at the perfect times and simply be the comfort that my family and you, my beloved clients, deserve.

Until we meet again, sweet friend. “Reh…”

Sleepless in Springtime?

Sleepless in Springtime?

Why does spring bring sleep deprivation, restlessness, and spinning thoughts?Sleepless in Springtime? Every winter I preach to my clients that while we might not be bears, we are creatures that go into semi-hibernation mode.  Our energy drops, we crave carbs, we are...

Pet Loss: How to Help Your Child Cope with Grief

Pet Loss: How to Help Your Child Cope with Grief

My earliest memories center on our lively, red-haired family member, Donovan. He was the star of our summer outings, ate too much birthday cake, and made holidays chaotic. He was my constant companion and first adventure buddy. I recall vividly, despite my young age...

The Origin of Key Concierge Teen Mentoring

The Origin of Key Concierge Teen Mentoring

The Origin of Key Concierge Teen Mentoring

The Origin of Key Concierge Teen Mentoring

With so many teen mentoring options out there, how do you know which one is right for you?

A quick Google search will show you that there are many different teen mentoring programs in Boulder, Colorado.  Each offers a different price point, different mentors of varying backgrounds, and different areas of specialty.  There are some with complex program packages, while others are fairly freestyle.  So how do you choose?


The number one predictor of a positive outcome of any therapeutic relationship always comes down to connection.  A therapist or mentor may possess amazing qualifications on paper or the company’s owner may have fantastic marketing abilities, but what we’ve heard from clients throughout the years always comes back to the key principle of “the right fit.” As we improve our corner of the teen therapy and mentoring world, we thought it might be helpful to read more of Jenny’s story in developing this program. Given there are many clients we serve today with similar traits as those from Jenny’s early days as a therapist in Baltimore, perhaps some of these descriptions will resonate.

The Concierge Evolution:

When Jenny worked for a non-public, special education school in the Baltimore-Washington D.C. area, she was perplexed by how to get children and adolescents to engage in office therapy as mandated by their Individualized Education Plans (IEP).  She was also losing passion for a career that she loved by day after day, dragging reluctant and mistrusting students from their classrooms to sit her office to play yet another game of Uno or Sorry.  These savvy, street-smart youngsters had experienced it all in their short lifetimes: drug addiction, abuse, assault, poverty, homelessness, failed foster and adoptive homes, failed reunification with their birth parents, and on and on.  Their struggles also ran the gamut from learning disabilities, Attachment Disorder, Fetal Alcohol Syndrome, Autism Spectrum Disorder, Attention Deficit Hyperactivity Disorder, Major Depression, and Bipolar Disorder, to name a few.  Jenny did not find comfort in the short time she was offering them each week by conducting contrived play therapy in an artificial setting, then sending them home to deal with their harsh realities that most of us only experience in the media. 

It was through her persistence (read: burnout) and the approval of a creative supervisor, that Jenny started taking these skeptical clients out into the world.  She felt just as frustrated sitting in an office hoping they would talk as her clients did. She started with bringing the older students to the bank or Target to practice critical life skills such as, how to open a checking account or how to work on a budget to buy necessary items like toothpaste or milk.  She then expanded that notion to taking kids to apply for jobs in person or accompanying them to doctors’ appointments.  Not only did her clients relish the time outside of the school building just as much as Jenny, but she noticed that each client started to open up more and more.

It was only after Jenny’s dedication to getting them real-life, utilizable skills that the students started to see the depths of Jenny’s care, so they trusted her with their locked away secrets and traumas. They let her finally guide them, not just with their physical needs in the world, but with their sensitive emotional needs, worries, hurts, and feelings of inadequacy.  Jenny started to see tough exteriors crack as she was able to teach actual therapeutic techniques, such as cognitive-behavioral and mindfulness strategies to regulate their immediate distress and mitigate their deep trauma.

Concierge in Boulder, Colorado:

Although she left the school she loved to move out to Colorado and pursue being an equine therapist, Jenny used the work she did in Baltimore with those very special and resilient clients as her basis for founding Key Concierge Therapy.  Once moving to Boulder, Jenny realized that although many of the children and teens here had different resources than her clients in Baltimore, they had very similar wounding and struggles. Many of these clients had seen a variety of therapists using highly effective modalities in an office setting, but to no avail. Parents reported seeing little to no improvement in their child’s condition and kids were left mistrusting of anyone hanging their shingle as a therapist. 

Although horses are magical and Jenny loves working outside, not all clients are suited for or desire equine therapy. Jenny resumed her mission to get the treatment-exhausted and resistant young people out of the office, with her trusty canine co-therapist in tow.  Teens would willingly get into Jenny’s car on their breaks from school to have their sessions, but the therapy was done more covertly. In fact, many times the clients didn’t even know Jenny was a therapist, as parents feared that the notion would be rejected if they told their children Jenny was a therapist. They went to Starbucks, local parks, hikes with Jenny’s dog, the rock gym, or sometimes even the client’s own backyard. Jenny observed the same results she had before: clients were finding relief from their diagnoses, parents were seeing improved functioning and skill utilization, grades were improving, relationships were built stronger, and overall health and well-being improved. 

Final Thoughts:

If you are a parent reading this, you know your child best. Parents typically report right away on an intake call whether or not they can see their child liking Jenny’s personality or style.  If you are a prospective teen reading this, trust your gut.  There are many, many choices out there and there is never a reason to settle when it comes to choosing the right guide for you.

Jenny and her team offer therapeutic mentoring for children and teens that are best served outside of the office and in the environment that feels most comfortable for them. Clients are still receiving a therapeutic service, but it is executed in a way that feels more palatable to the child and helps empower them to regain a sense of control and agency in their world. For college-age or twenty-something adults, the mentoring can be pivotal in forming a lasting relationship that will help launch the client launch into adulthood, face addiction, improve satisfaction in the work environment, enrich friendships and family relationships, as well as give the client a sense of who they are and how they can live their purpose fully.

Still have questions? Email Jenny to find out if a concierge approach is the best fit for you. Given Jenny and her team are trained in traditional psychotherapy treatment, they can advise you on the best direction that fits your family’s needs.

Sleepless in Springtime?

Sleepless in Springtime?

Sleepless in Springtime?

Sleepless in Springtime?

Why does spring bring sleep deprivation, restlessness, and spinning thoughts?Sleepless in Springtime?

Every winter I preach to my clients that while we might not be bears, we are creatures that go into semi-hibernation mode.  Our energy drops, we crave carbs, we are ready for bed when the sun goes down at the dreaded five o’clock, and we tend to run depressed-ish.  While some suffer from the clinical condition S.A.D. or Seasonal Affective Disorder, in which the decreased daylight causes a wintertime depression, the hibernation I am referring to is different. We are still able to function, but some of us do not have quite the same focus, energy, or bandwidth for life.  The kicker? We are busiest in the winter. As children and young adults, our academics are the hardest. As adults, there are less opportunities for dreamy vacations and we have to stay on point with our jobs and our families.

If you’re like me, long about Thanksgiving, you begin counting down the days for when the time will change back; for when the birds will sing; for when that glow on the horizon is a little brighter.  Then February hits and we think, “Yes! See ya later, January! The shortest month is finally here and warm, easy days are just around the corner.” So when March arrives and we are nipping at the heels of the coveted longer days, why are we still so darned sleep deprived, agitated, and restless?

The Answer:

The answer is again the winter hibernation and… our culture.  In Norway, scientists studied why even though they have some of the darkest and coldest of the winter days, their reported rates of depression are relatively low. The answer was in their approach to winter. Norwegians embrace the slower, shorter days with a concept called koselig. They take time off to gather with others under warm cozy blankets and soft candlelight. Most homes have open fires indoors. They make the best of winter sports and they utilize the expression, “There is no bad weather, just bad clothes.” You might be thinking, “Well, I do that. I rush to the mountains on my days off to go skiing.” But in Scandinavia, it’s not just a weekend sport, it’s a way of life.  Dealing with winter is easier, therefore the transition into spring is not as disruptive, either.  Their brains are better set up to ease back into increased energy levels.

In the United States:

In the United States, given our culture’s tendency to drive and push, we spend our winters exhausted, so by the time the spring thaw arrives, we are frenzied. The light starts to slowly change, the days get longer, yet it’s not quite warm yet. Our brains are starting to wake up, but we do not yet possess enough of the feel-good chemicals of dopamine, serotonin, and norepinephrine to support increased energy or more efficient daily functioning.  The result? We are wide awake throughout the night, our minds are spinning, and we are still… exhausted. 

I work with many clients who struggle with Bipolar I or Bipolar II disorders.  February is when they start to feel the depressive episodes give way to hypomania or mania.  This is where the term “spring fever” originated.  As with all psychological processes, most of us tend to fall somewhere on the spectrum of increased energy.  If you have a concern that you may be experiencing clinical mania, please check with a therapist.  However, if you’re feeling extra agitated, irritated, or restless, then your brain is likely experiencing the normal spring thaw. 

Here are some tips :

Here are some tips on how to handle this not-so-fun in between state while waiting for the calmer days of summer:
• Insight—Let the power of knowing what’s happening to your brain be comforting.
• Exercise— Move your body in order to discourage the hibernation mode.
• Daylight—Get outside to encourage your brain to sync up to the rhythms of Mother Nature.
• Sleep Hygiene—Work with your therapist to improve your bedtime routine.
• DBT—Dialectical Behavioral Therapy techniques improve your ability to tolerate distress
• Dream—Plan your spring break or summer getaway. It gives that restless mind a job to do!
• Share—By vocalizing how you’re feeling, it reduces feelings of isolation and worry

In conclusion:

In conclusion, we all have biorhythms. We can try to override them, but they still exist. They are harder to identify and synch up with given the flooding of chemicals, electronic devices, and cultural demands. By spending time reflecting on your yearly patterns and where your mental springtime routine could use some cleaning, you can align with the natural tendencies of your brain in your current stage of life, optimizing your outlook, state-of-mind, and energy level, while hopefully having more restful nights!

Pet Loss: How to Help Your Child Cope with Grief

Pet Loss: How to Help Your Child Cope with Grief

Pet Loss: How to Help Your Child Cope with Grief

Pet Loss: How to Help Your Child Cope with Grief

My earliest memories center on our lively, red-haired family member, Donovan. He was the star of our summer outings, ate too much birthday cake, and made holidays chaotic. He was my constant companion and first adventure buddy. I recall vividly, despite my young age of four, when I realized that Donovan was missing. I walked into my mom’s room as she was making her bed and asked where Donovan had gone. Like most moms, she struggled with how to tell her child the beloved family dog died.

Be Authentic

Coping with pet loss can be a difficult, yet cathartic time for families. It is often a child’s first experience of death. Parents struggle with if, when, and how to involve children in this process. Instincts tell you to protect them from the pain of pet loss, while logic argues that they should understand that death is a part of life. The grieving process is unique for each family member, but when approached with openness and patience, it provides an opportunity to become closer.

There are many factors to consider when helping children cope with pet loss. First, remember that you are working through this together. As the parent, you are the guide and model, but it is okay to admit your own feelings of grief. Parents often want to hide their sadness in order to keep from burdening children. In most cases, being transparent with your emotions will give them permission to share theirs. Be mindful that your son or daughter may react differently to pet loss than you do, or even than other children of similar age.

Age Considerations

Parents seek to understand age-appropriate ways to incorporate children in the illness and death process. Although developmental stages are helpful, your gut will tell you how much they are ready to know. Most children from the age of two will have a sense of grief that comes with pet loss. While they may not be able to comprehend death as a permanent state until after the age of seven, you should be transparent and truthful.

Most of you can recall a story like Donovan’s: mom panicked and said the pet went to live on a farm. Children sense that this explanation is not plausible, which causes them confusion or perhaps more distress. Because they are learning about the permanence of death, they wonder why a part of the family was taken away. They also may link their actions to the pet’s removal from the house. Reassure your children they were not the cause of the pet’s death. For younger ages, provide enough information so they understand their friend was sick. With older children, give more details as necessary.

Children often react in ways that seem idiosyncratic or inappropriate, but this is especially true for teens. Some may act out or express anger in situations not directly related to the loss. Parents want them to confront their feelings directly by talking about the death. If your child is not ready, offering patience with their emotional ups and downs will better serve them. Refrain from having a timeframe for grief resolution.

Create a Memorial

Make your home an accepting environment for all respectful reactions to grief. Some children may accept death readily, having no reaction. For others, reactions may come at a later time. Involving your children in a memorial can help them find peace. Ask them to do something in memory of the pet, like make a collage together or pick out picture frames for a pet corner in your home. Invite them to write a letter to your pet saying goodbye as a way of helping them express their feelings.
Finally, when your family has suffered a pet loss, allow for extra time together. Going for a drive, taking a walk, or similar activities promote conversation naturally. Respond to their thoughts with validation, seeking to know more. If they choose to be silent, soak up the extra moments with your family, feeling gratitude for the time shared. A pet enters into your life for a few precious moments and teaches your children about unconditional love, but their lessons stay in your family’s heart forever.

Sleepless in Springtime?

Sleepless in Springtime?

Why does spring bring sleep deprivation, restlessness, and spinning thoughts?Sleepless in Springtime? Every winter I preach to my clients that while we might not be bears, we are creatures that go into semi-hibernation mode.  Our energy drops, we crave carbs, we are...