Psych Grad Starts Unique Assistance-Dog Business

We recently caught up with a fascinating health-psychology graduate, Darcie Boltz, who opened her own business that trains assistance dogs and matches them with people with emotional and psychological needs. Although Boltz couldn't find a blueprint for this type of business, she says her Bastyr degree equipped her with the knowledge and confidence to blaze her own trail. Enjoy the interview below.

Briefly describe the work you do now.

I am the founder and director of training of Heeling Allies, a company that trains mental health service dogs (also known as psychiatric service dogs), emotional support dogs and therapeutic companion dogs, then matches them up with people who need them. We train the dogs to provide assistance to those with psychological impairments or needs, just as guide dogs provide assistance to those with visual impairments.

We are a unique company. Heeling Allies finds dogs who need homes and tailor-trains them for individuals with special needs. Some of the dogs have come from shelters, animal sanctuaries and rescue organizations, or directly from individuals who for one reason or another could no longer care for them. These trained dogs are a highly effective type of alternative medicine and a wonderful adjunct to traditional therapies. Our commitment is that our clients and their dogs thrive on all levels: mind, body and spirit.

In addition to my work with Heeling Allies, I am a Dialectical Behavior Therapy (DBT) skills trainer. I work with individuals who experience behavioral and emotional disregulation as a function of mental health issues including depression, anxiety, borderline traits and mood disorders.

What is your background, and how did you find your way to Bastyr?

For as long as I can remember, I have been fascinated by the human mind and interested in health and healing. My curiosity was undoubtedly sparked by my desire to understand myself and the people around me, as well as by my journey to overcome health challenges that I struggled with during my childhood and adolescent years.

I learned about Bastyr several years ago while I was working at a natural foods market in Federal Way, Washington. One evening a week, a naturopathic physician would come into the market to answer customers' questions regarding supplements and food. When the doctor was not busy, I would flood her with my own questions about alternative medicine. The doctor suggested I look into Bastyr's health psychology program, since I had such an intense interest in psychology and alternative healing. When I visited the Bastyr website, I knew it was a perfect fit.

How did you get into this career?

I have worked with dogs in the areas of rescue and rehabilitation and basic and advanced obedience training since 2005. Upon graduating from Bastyr in 2007, I knew I wanted to combine my two passions: health psychology and working with dogs. Being intimately familiar with the healing power of the human-canine connection, I wanted to blend my two areas of expertise to work with people with special needs. Having had the opportunity work with rescue dogs and dogs in need of homes, I could see the potential for a reciprocal relationship between individuals with special needs and dogs with exceptional temperaments that needed homes.

What did you appreciate most about your degree program?

There were many things that I loved about attending Bastyr University: the cutting edge curriculum, the beautiful campus, the invigorating buzz that filled the air and the supportive financial aid and admissions departments. However, what I appreciated most about Bastyr was the incredibly bright, experienced and dedicated faculty. Synergistically, the curriculum and the faculty fueled my curiosity and creativity. My creativity was routinely met with enthusiasm and my instructors certainly brought out the best in me.

At Bastyr, you are more than just a number – you are an individual with a name, a mind, a body and a spirit. Over the course of my degree program, I was able to develop close working relationships with faculty and cohorts. When you attend Bastyr's health psychology program, you learn about the critical role social support plays in mental and physical health and individual success. The support you receive in the health psychology program lends itself to student success. Bastyr University practices what they preach!

What's next for you? Where would you like to place your energies?

I would like to teach people how to do what we do, since there is such a high demand for the type of specialized services we offer. People frequently contact me from all over the country wanting to learn more about the programs I've developed. Therapists want to learn about how to work with dogs in this capacity, and dog trainers want to learn to work with individuals with special needs.

I am also interested Bastyr University's Master of Science in Nutrition and Clinical Health Psychology degree program, which could help me take both my business and my education to a higher level. With the results that my undergraduate degree helped me to produce, I can't wait to see what my future holds with more education and involvement with Bastyr!

How did your Bastyr degree prepare you for your career?

I learned to think critically, interpret research data and collaborate with others. I was taught to look at health and healing from a holistic perspective. The health psychology model suggests that human beings are comprised of biological, sociological and psychological systems. If one or more of these systems is compromised, so is the whole person.

Bastyr's exceptional curriculum and their encouragement of my creativity and passion gave me the tools I needed to develop these unique programs that are some of the first in this country. There was no template for this specific type of program. When I designed Heeling Allies, I saw a need and I created a business. This is the type of initiative that Bastyr instills in its students.