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Service dogs give students boost at Point Edward school

Published on

Troy Shantz

You won’t find any “no dogs allowed” signs at Bridgeview Public School.

That’s because two specially trained service dogs are making a difference in the lives of students and staff at the Point Edward school.

They look like typical black Labrador retrievers. But Heidi, 3, and Abbie, 1, have been carefully chosen to work with autistic and medically fragile children.

In fact, their training begins as pups at the age of three months.

Under the watchful eye of their handlers – co-op students from St. Patrick’s High School – the two tail-waggers walk the halls and visit classrooms to offer comfort and support to students.

“One of the things you automatically notice is the comfort within the school of having the dogs here,” said Sarah Luttrell, a teacher in Bridgeview’s alternative learning and life skills program.

“When you need that comfortable teddy bear that you can’t take to school, Abbie and Heidi show up, and you have it.”

In Luttrell’s classroom, the pair sit quietly with special needs students as they finish their work, or cuddle together during quiet time.

“You can see the muscle relaxation when they’re with the dogs,” she said.

“Every day someone in this school asks, ‘Are they coming today?’”

To help calm and focus, students will sometimes sit in a hallway with Abbie or Heidi while reading or doing assignments.

The dogs are very good listeners, said co-op student handler Arden Van Ooteghem, 17, who makes the rounds with Abbie.

“I could just see the difference the dogs made.”

Van Ooteghem, who received training through the co-op placement, said the service dogs are remarkably well behaved.

“I had never worked with special needs children before, so it kind of gave me a deeper understanding of what life is like for them, and how amazing working with them can be,” she said.

“It was probably the greatest high school experience I’ve had. It changed me as a person.”

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