Whether you are a dog lover or not, you’ve got to admit that pooches can work magic with kids.
Camden was our first therapy dog at McLean Speech and Language. He was a majestic, 90lb white lab who was so serene that even when someone was upset, he had little reaction. Camden spent most of his therapy time at MVLE, an adult day program in Springfield and Chantilly. At these two facilities, Camden taught the participants about being calm, observing personal space, using their words when they wanted “Camden time,” and how to work with others. In addition to MVLE, Camden made frequent visits to nursing homes and charity events as a volunteer.
Today, Camden’s successor is Yoda. She has similar qualities – calm, patient, and always seeking to find someone who needs a gentle “hello.” Yoda, a Great Pyrenees-Australian Shepherd mix, is quite a bit smaller than Camden and a frequent presence at many of our sites – the office, MVLE, and two of our school sites. In the office she can be found under Chris’s desk waiting to be called to duty. Many people do not even realize she is on site.
In the office building, she has been called to duty by some of our neighboring doctor and dentist offices on more than one occasion. Once when a student with autism was not able to use her words at the dentist office upstairs, Yoda was able to help by first reminding the student that her actions were making Yoda afraid and then by allowing the student to walk Yoda out of the building. Yoda, of course, was rewarded generously by the office for this!
At McLean Speech and Language, Yoda has won many hearts. It took months for one student to overcome his fear of dogs and warm up to her — and now he feels let down if Yoda is not present for his therapy time. Today he earns points in his session to walk Yoda or feed her treats. Following his therapy sessions, he can usually be found on the floor sitting next to Yoda and talking to her about what he did today in speech therapy or practicing his phonic skills by reading her a book.
Yoda’s work extends beyond the office. She visits our school sites to participate in communication classes. At MVLE, she not only calms clients and teaches social skills but also participates in our sign language classes (participants finger-spell her name and sign to her to come, sit, stay, and listen).
Through a play that was put on by the MVLE participants throughout Fairfax county schools, Yoda was able to highlight what it took to become a therapy dog. This involved months of specialized training, testing, and finally certification through both a local organization and a national one.
Sometimes Yoda wears her formal therapy dog vest to make sure everyone around knows she’s a working dog. Other times, we take that off and just leave on her small collar/harness to give everyone an easier chance to pat her head, stroke her back, and rub her belly when she lays down and rolls over for a cuddle.