Ridgefield Magazine Feature

Ten Minutes with Helaine Fischer

An innovator whose black Lab-border collie mix inspired her to launch Out of the Crate

Photo by Michele Williams Photographer

Photo by Michele Williams Photographer

Helaine Fischer is an innovator, entrepreneur, and inventor (she created the very first toothbrush timer for kids!), who has focused on healthy living programs for businesses and individuals since 2002. She is equally passionate about animals, particularly Berkeley, her black Lab-border collie mix who inspired her to launch Out of the Crate, a non-profit business where her dog plays a pivotal role.

How did you meet Berkeley?
I had been volunteering at ROAR for about a year when this forlorn little puppy arrived on a transport from Mississippi. My dog had died the year before and I hadn’t planned on adopting another one. But there was an instant connection. I looked at him and wondered: “am I supposed to take you home?”

What made you think he might fit into a therapeutic program?
Shortly after adopting him, I dropped my daughter off at college. A little girl was nearby, standing with her mother and crying, sad that her big sister was staying behind. Berkeley walked over to her and laid down—right on her feet! The little girl stopped crying. Berkeley rolled over on his back, asking for a belly rub. She obliged, and slowly started to smile. It struck me then that my dog had some sort of intuition—he sought this little girl out and wanted to cheer her up. It was like he knew it was his job.

How did you connect the dots between your interest in human wellness and animal welfare?
At the time, I was the CEO of a technology company that specialized in integrated health plans for employees, so I was always thinking about ways to entice executives to take time out of their work day for a stretch break or a walk. I also noticed the ways volunteers at ROAR connected with the animals, filling a need within themselves as well as providing much needed compassion to the animals. A light bulb went off for me.

So, what is Out of the Crate—group therapy with dogs?
Not exactly. We take the benefits of pet therapy and combine it with a positive group dynamic to create a unique and satisfying experience. Having an animal present brings everyone down to a more primal level, and breaks the ice for those who are hesitant to participate. I had been thinking about starting my Out of the Crate program, but something was missing until Berkeley helped me clarify the pet therapy part. Good dog, Berkeley!

You’ve said that dogs and cats make us more human. What do you mean?
What I’ve learned is that we can look to animals as teachers. They have an amazing gift to help us tap into things we don’t even realize about ourselves. We all need a purpose in life—sometimes an animal is just that purpose.

Out of the Crate (outofthecrate.com) presented the first public reading of its new children’s book: Out of the Crate and Into the Pack on October 16 at the 2016 ROAR Paws for the Cause Dog Festival at the Ridgefield Parks & Recreation Department. roar-ridgefield.org


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