Guest article by Angela Bowers
There’s a reason we say a dog is man’s best friend. Austin Dog Alliance, a non-profit based in Cedar Park, trains and coordinates therapy teams consisting of a dog and its owner. These volunteer teams work with special needs patients, as well as nursing homes and elementary schools. Oh, and did I mention some of these services are free?
Books and Barks
Some Austin Dog Alliance therapy teams visit elementary schools and read one-on-one with at-risk students through the Bow Wow Reading program. The student reads to a therapy dog, offering the child a new audience with whom to share his or her reading skills and struggles. The sweet disposition of these dogs serves as encouragement to students who have reading difficulties.
Many students experience significant improvement after reading to a therapy dog over time. Students find the dogs non-judgmental and endlessly patient–a valuable source of comfort when they feel doubtful about their reading skills.
Pawsitively Friendly Visiting the Elderly
ADA volunteer, Michele, and her dog, Lexi, recently strolled through a nursing home in Cedar Park and brought along a fresh sense of joy and excitement. Lexi greeted each resident as she sat patiently at their feet, smiling and wagging her tail furiously. Residents’ faces lit up as they petted Lexi lovingly.
“I love to see the residents smile. Often times, Lexi can get them out of their rooms when they wouldn’t otherwise leave,” Michele shared. “I can ask if they want to go down the hall with me to participate in an activity provided by the nursing home. Sometimes they decline the offer, but when I mention Lexi would love to escort them, they change their minds. We may be the only visitor they see that week, but Lexi brings them joy.”
Michele and Lexi visit this nursing home weekly and have grown close to the residents.
Dogs Supporting Those With Special Needs
An eighth-grade student with autism from Cedar Park struggled with anxiety in school, which caused him to miss classes. “Please get me a service dog. I want to be able to go to my classes like other teenagers,” he pleaded with his parents. Austin Dog Alliance paired him with a service dog and improvements started the first day.
The student successfully stood in front of the class and shared the dog’s role with his classmates. “This is my therapy dog. She is here to help me go to class every day. I’ll walk her around now so you can pet her, but you can’t pet her after that.” He previously felt uncomfortable speaking in front of the entire class, but the presence of his therapy dog contributed a new sense of peace.
A few months later, Michele spent time with the student and his therapy dog at school to see the progress. “He’s so much nicer now that he has a dog,” one of his classmates exclaimed to Michele. “We didn’t know him much because he wasn’t in class much, but now we do!”
Hounds for Heroes
Austin Dog Alliance exists to serve the community and see the bond between humans and canines grow. This non-profit offers many programs including Hounds for Heroes, designed to help veterans dealing with PTSD (Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder). Their annual benefit took place recently on Oct. 17.
To learn more, visit Austin Dog Alliance’s website.
@theAustinot wants to know:
Have you ever met a service dog?
Angela Bowers is an event planner, native Texan and lifelong Longhorn. She enjoys writing, listening to podcasts, playing with her dog and hiking in her spare time. Connect with Angela on Twitter.