Therapy Dog Apollonia Inspires Patients at Sanford Behavioral Health

Rae Green and Apol sitting on a bridge in the woods

Interacting with a dog produces the brain chemical oxytocin, increasing trust, emotion, and bonding.

At Sanford Behavioral Health, therapy dog Apollonia (Apol) is a celebrity of sorts. When she trots through the halls with Sanford Founder Rae Green, both patients and team members brighten. She has inspired artwork in art therapy, love letters from patients leaving treatment, and even a set of personalized note cards. Apol also holds the record for the most Facebook shares (4.6k) from our first article about her: Benefits of a Therapy Dog in Mental Health Treatment. Owner Rae Green is also an addiction therapist, so they make an excellent team. While Rae is giving her signature presentation on the “neurobiology of addiction,” Apol can be found gently interacting with an emotional attendee or providing comic relief. In short, she is a valued member of the Sanford multi-disciplinary team.


What is a Therapy Dog?

Therapy dogs interact with all sorts of people and provide comfort and support. They are often found in hospitals, assisted living facilities, schools, disaster areas, and more. According to the National Institutes of Health (NIH), therapy dogs have been proven to positively interact with all three influencers of human health and well-being: biological, psychological, and social.

Therapy Dog Benefits (NIH Dogs Supporting Human Health and Well-Being: A Biopsychosocial Approach)

    • Garners positive outcomes for all ages
    • Decreases depression
    • Helps provide coping mechanisms
    • Reduces anxiety and stress levels
    • Decreases distress in those who have experienced trauma
    • Can make the therapeutic process more effective
    • Provides inspiration
    • Positively impacts psychological functioning, cognition, and learning
    • Can influence blood pressure, heart rate, endorphins, and dopamine
    • Short-term interactions with a dog can decrease concentrations of  the stress hormone cortisol
    • Interaction can produce oxytocin, impacting trust, emotion, and bonding
    • Improves social functioning, prosocial behaviors, and perception of social inclusion


5 Questions for Sanford Behavioral Health Founder Rae Green, JD, LPC, CAADC

Rae Green walking the halls with Apol


1. Sanford- What type of training did Apol have to become a therapy dog?

Rae Green – My daughter Jacqueline is a vet technician with a certification in animal-assisted therapy; she trained Apollonia. Apol was also a puppy when our previous therapy dog, Santino, was alive, so she learned from the best. Jacq says that Apol is able to “tune in” to all ages, as evidenced by how she behaves around Jacq’s baby (my granddaughter).


2. Sanford – How does Apol interact with Sanford patients in group therapy and one-on-one therapy?

Rae Green – This dog lives to go to the group. She has been known to sneak into a group if I am not watching – she knows where the group rooms are at Sanford West Behavioral Health Campus. She’ll go around the group circle, and she stops to greet every single person. Then, she finds a spot to rest. But if someone gets emotional, her little corgi ears pop up, and she looks concerned and eventually gravitates toward that person. She is not a snuggly, sit-on-your-lap dog, but her “antennae” tell her where she is needed.

I have seen her be very effective one-on-one with our eating disorder patients. Many of those with eating disorders struggle with communicating and coping with emotion. It can be at the root of an eating disorder – a kind of maladaptive coping skill. The presence of Apollonia allows patients to express feelings without fear. Therapy dogs are effective in family sessions, too. I remember a session where the family had trouble communicating directly, so we used a therapy dog as the point of communication. In other words, the family members told the dog how they felt, and she was a buffer.



3. Sanford –  Please tell us about the art therapy projects that Apol has inspired.

Rae Green – Apol inspires the clients because they have a connection to her, and she is the “feel-good” part of their day. That is reflected in the art that they express during art therapy. The painting of Apol in the apple tree was painted for me. Our clients were so thrilled to be able to share that picture because of how much they love her. I was also inspired to create a note card from artwork generated by Sanford Comprehensive Treatment for Eating Disorder patients. I took the picture to a printer and asked, “How fast can you do this for me because I have clients who are going to be discharged?” The printer said he’d get the job done. We still use the notecards – long after the creators left Sanford in recovery.



4. Sanford, how do you manage a situation in which a patient is afraid of or doesn’t like dogs?

Rae Green –  People come first, not the dog. So, if I’m taking Apol into a group, I go in before and ask if anybody has an allergy or is uncomfortable with having a dog in the space. If so, she says “hi” and goes to my office until I am finished. It happens very rarely because she is non-threatening, and everyone wants her in the session.


5. Sanford – Do you have examples of how Apol benefits Sanford patients or a case study you could discuss?

Rae Green – I think it is worth mentioning that when people see Apol, it gives them the opportunity to talk about their dogs, so it opens up the love that they have for their animals. It creates a sense of connectedness and brings us right into the home and family system. Apol’s presence can draw responses and interaction with clients who would usually sit silently. She might approach and nudge them. I can utilize her presence to open up to that person who is sitting in their isolation. Of course, Isolation is common in both substance use and eating disorders. When Apol breaks the isolation, I can use it to connect with the person and get them engaged.

I also like to use a therapy dog to provide an example of a subconscious trigger. A subconscious trigger may cause a patient to relapse or revert to patterns used in active addiction or eating disorders. If I lift the lid off the dog treats container, Apol comes running. In this way, I can demonstrate the exact Pavlovian phenomenon that happens to our patients and talk about the pathways in the brain that lead to mental health conditions.


6. Sanford – Is there anything else you’d like to say?

Rae Green – I am particularly interested in the brain chemistry that is triggered when a person interacts with a dog. In any mental health disorder, there is a chemical imbalance. It’s hard to compete with the acceleration of chemicals that psychoactive substances create on the reward system. So, anytime we can add a feel-good chemical, it’s a benefit because it just starts producing those positive pathways. A simple way to do that is to have a dog walk around the building and get the dopamine and oxytocin flowing!

The only other thing I would add is that in both eating disorders and substance use disorders, the nature of the disorder tends to push people away from their prior support systems. People who enter treatment at Sanford have maladaptive or disordered supports. Having a therapy dog can facilitate social engagement, break the isolation, and bring them into a world of more “normal” support. After all, there is nothing more conventional than bending down to pat a dog’s head.


For more information on Apol and therapy dogs, click the link/photo below:

Benefits of a Therapy Dog in Mental Health Treatment

Apol corgi sitting on a wall


If you or a loved one is struggling with addiction, eating disorders, or co-occurring mental health conditions, don’t wait to change your life – click the link below to speak with an admissions specialist.

Sanford Behavioral Health is licensed and accredited as an addiction, eating disorder, and co-occurring mental health treatment facility, serving all of Michigan and beyond. Each of Sanford’s facilities in Greater Grand Rapids is carefully and diligently crafted to create a welcoming and comforting environment. Sanford is led by a psychiatrist-led team of medical, clinical, and support personnel providing medication-assisted, evidenced-based treatment to residential, outpatient, and telehealth patients. For more information, visit