Furry Friends Help Special Kids Connect to the World -Trenton Times 1/28/13

By Times of Trenton Letters to the Editor The Times, Trenton
on January 28, 2013 at 6:20 Am

Furry friends help special kids connect to the world
A therapy dog can assist those with autism spectrum disorder. A Mercer County family has recently received their very own therapy dog and it has affected their son’s life in a way they never could have imagined.

Children with autism can become very depressed when faced with everyday social interactions that most people find easy.

A therapy dog can not only help alleviate the child’s stress, but also help the child interact socially with many new friends. (Who does not want to run up and pet a cute dog?) Not only can a therapy dog help children interact socially, but children can form a bond with their new furry friend, which they might not have previously experienced with people.

Rutgers University professor Julie Fagan, along with several other student researchers and I are working with the nonprofit Attitudes in Reverse to investigate whether visits with therapy dogs would be helpful for those afflicted by autism.

Teams of therapy dogs and handlers will be going approximately one hour a week for six weeks to those homes that have requested to participate in the study.

We will be scheduling the free sessions beginning in February. Our first task is enlisting families to join the project. Interested families should log onto our project website ruffloveus.wordpress.com or contact me for more information at (908) 307-1917 or czinna@eden.rutgers.edu.

— Courtney Zinna,
The writer is research coordinator for the study at Rutgers University, where she is an undergraduate student.




Chat Room / Forum – For Therapy Dog Handlers only

This is a place where you can privately chat with other therapy dog handlers.  Although the Principal Investigator (Julie Fagan) will be managing this google doc chat room, neither the ASD families nor the student researchers will have access to the google doc.  To access this google doc chat room, you will need to send your gmail account to ruffloveus@yahoo.com .
The link to the private chat room is:

Chat Room / Forum For ASD Families Only

This is a place where you can privately chat with other ASD family members.  Although the Principal Investigator (Julie Fagan) will be managing this google doc chat room, neither the therapy dog handlers or the student researchers will have access to the google doc. Your gmail acoount is needed to access this google doc chat room. If you have not done so already (and you do not have access to the google doc), please send your gmail address to ruffloveus@yahoo.com .
The link to the private chat room is: https://docs.google.com/document/d/1qKnKGfZPCCaHiNv35MCNCNV3jryzeLdNNTYvTX_nPLI/edit

Your own therapy dog

After the study, you may wish to continue getting therapy dog visits or you may be thinking about getting your own 24/7 therapy dog.  We are involved with the group A.I.R. that takes shelter dogs and trains them to work as emotional support dogs to be placed with a family.  Read the article below about their AIR Dogs: Paws for Minds program:  From: http://www.princetonol.com/Groups/polAnnouncements.cfm?doctype_code=NONPRF%20ANNOUNCE&doc_id=7809

Local Advocacy Group Announces AIR Dogs: Paws For Minds – Rescues ‘Throw Away’ Dogs and Transforms Them into ‘Working’ Emotional Support Dogs

October 17, 2012

Attitudes In Reverse (A.I.R.), the nonprofit Plainsboro-based group which strives to promote empathy and understanding of mental illness, has announced the next step in advancing their mission – the AIR Dogs: Paws For Minds program. Through AIR Dogs: Paws For Minds, trained volunteers seek out appropriate dogs through shelters and rescues, and match them with people who would benefit from having an emotional support or therapy dog in their life.

 “We are looking for those bullet-proof dogs,” said A.I.R. co-founder and certified dog-trainer Tricia Baker. Baker was inspired to start the AIR Dogs: Paws For Minds program by the emotional support her own dog Miki the Pomeranian provided her in the wake of the tragedy of her son Kenny’s death by suicide in 2009 after his long battle with anxiety and depression. “I don’t know how I would have gotten through it without that little dog,” she said.

Although newly formed, AIR Dogs: Paws For Minds has already successfully placed two dogs.

Adrienne Carson, an A.I.R. Board Member, and senior dog trainer and behaviorist, discovered Oliver, also known as ‘the other Pomeranian’ in a northern New Jersey shelter and knew he was AIR Dog material. Oliver was teamed up with Stacey Lambros of East Windsor after she met A.I.R. co-founder Kurt Baker at Cranbury Day in Cranbury, N.J.

When Lambros and Oliver met, it was love at first sight. Diagnosed with a mood disorder more than a decade ago, Lambros continues to struggle with anxiety and depression, but she said there has been a profound difference in her life since Oliver came into it. “When I sigh out of anxiety, Oliver licks my face and relaxes me. I’m not so lonely any more. I don’t make friends easily, and I don’t talk to a lot of people. Oliver is showing me a lot of love and that helps me with my anxiety. It’s like a little miracle,” Lambros said.

Shortly after Oliver’s placement, Carson found another shelter gem – Roxie the Frengle, a mix of French Bulldog and Beagle.

Matthew, 10, of Lawrenceville, met Carson at the first annual Miki & Friends Walk & Run for AIR in May at Mercer County Park. Matthew had been asking his parents for a dog ever since he could talk. But Matthew struggles with anxiety, depression and a pervasive developmental disorder, and his parents knew they needed just the right dog for him. Having Roxie has worked magic on Matthew, unleashing a sense of joy in a boy who found little happiness in life, and has opened a window of conversation.  

 “One of the good things for me about having a dog is Roxie gives me something to talk about when I find myself in a social situation. She also helps relax me and helps me get exercise,” Matthew said.

 “So many people have told us how much they depend on their dogs for their mental well-being,” Baker said. “It’s ironic to think that Oliver and Roxie were considered throwaway dogs from a shelter, and so many people with mental illness are considered throwaway people. Our hope is that with more training with Stacey and Oliver, and Matthew and Roxie, we’ll be able to turn them into working service dogs. Then they would be able to take their dogs places like restaurants and hotels, given the same kind of access that service dogs like Seeing Eye dogs may have,” Baker said.

AIR Dogs will also advance A.I.R.’s efforts to educate the community about mental illness and mental health through attendance at community and advocacy group events, as well as collaboration with various mental health agencies.  

Businesses throughout the region are showing their support for AIR Dogs: Paws for Minds with an outpouring of donations. Among the AIR Dogs: Paws for Minds sponsors are Michael Tokiwa, DVM, of  The Animal Hospital at Kingston and Blawenburg, CC Cartier of Maverick Pet Partners, Ashley Rutherford of Curbside Cuts, and Stephanie Kowalewksi of Heavenly Hounds Dog Training School. Baker said she is thankful for their generosity and support, and hopes additional sponsorship will enable AIR Dogs: Paws for Minds to grow and assist more people as they strive for wellness.  .