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Law goes to the dogs

David Paul’s thesis on the role therapy dogs can play in mediation has been published in Harvard Negotiation Law Review
David Paul

David Paul knows what will likely happen when he meets a couple seeking a divorce.

“These are people going through the worst times they will ever, every go through,” the Kamloops lawyer said.

“When people get into my office, they are angry and incapable of working to a satisfactory resolution.”

Enter Charlie and, much of the time, everything in the room changes.

Charlie’s just got a way of bringing the anger level down and helping induce a calm that might lead to the warring couple working to end their marriage without hating each other.

Charlie is inspirational for a puppy — albeit one big purebred poodle pup. He has already worked his magic in the Paul family and has, in a roundabout way, led to Paul having his master’s degree thesis published by Harvard University.

Charlie joined the family at a difficult time. Paul’s in-laws had died within six months of each other. The family’s first dog had also died and a decision was made that there would be no more canine family members.

“The last one was the last one,” Paul said. “We even put in hardwood floors because it was the last one.”

Wife Arlene, however, wanted a dog and, eventually, she prevailed. Charlie came to live with them — but he also went to the office frequently and Paul noticed that when Charlie was in the room, the battling couples often relaxed and engaged with the pup.

“And those mediations were always successful,” Paul said.

Prepping for his thesis project while studying at Toronto’s Osgoode Hall Law School for the degree in dispute resolution, Paul took to heart what his instructor told him — find a subject that will lead to exploring areas that have never before been researched.

He chose the role therapy dogs can play in mediation and soon discovered the subject had been studied in most every discipline except law.

Paul had already seen therapy dogs in action. He teaches at Thompson Rivers University, where every Thursday local therapy dogs are on site to interact with people. He has seen them used in prisons to help the incarcerated socialize better. He knows therapy dogs are used with people who have various health needs, from autism to blindness to depression.

Paul learned of the role various hormones and chemical reactions can play in social interaction. In particular, he was impressed by an academic article that lamented the fact there was no way to spray oxytocin — one of those hormones — into a room of unhappy people.

Paul realized he could do just that,

“I can bring oxytocin into a room by bringing Charlie,” he said.

Thesis completed and, after receiving an A-plus, Paul sent it to various potential publishers.

“And, just for fun, I added Harvard,” he said. “Two weeks before I got the email, I said to Arlene, ‘Can you imagine if Harvard got a hold of me?’ And then there was an email in my office email that said they wanted to publish it.”

Paul said he first suspected his friend, John O’Fee, who also edited the thesis, was being behind what must have been a fake email.

“Then I looked again and that’s really Harvard. I ran to my wife’s office and said, ‘Read it yourself.’ There are only a few times I do the happy dance. That was one of them.”

His thesis was published by the Harvard Negotiation Law Review.

Paul said the work has helped him as he focuses on how to become more emotionally intelligent.

“They don’t teach that in law schools, the whole emotional level,” he said.

Charlie’s presence isn’t for everyone, Paul said. Poodles are more easily tolerated by people with allergies, they shed less and produce less dander and saliva, which can trigger allergies. But there are still people who might react to him or simply don’t want to have a dog in the room.

But, for those who welcome Charlie, Paul is convinced he plays an important role in the process.