Therapy dog brings mental, social benefits to people with developmental disabilities

September 6, 2012 10:05:52 AM PDT
Interacting with dogs brings many physical, mental and social benefits to people with developmental disabilities.

"Baci," a 6-year-old German shepherd/greyhound mix, works at Western DuPage Special Recreation Association performing various kinds of "animal " chores. He is the most popular staff member.

At WDSRA's headquarters in Carol Stream, Baci and his owner Dori Napolitano are working with a group of young adults. Dori is the day program manager.

"He comes to see the adults and the kids that he works with," said Napolitano. "When he's here in the morning, before everyone is arriving, he sits outside my office door and just kind of waits for everyone to arrive.

Baci is a certified animal therapy dog.

"I did some certification through the American Kennel Club and through the Canine Good Citizens test that he passed, and it was an extensive class that he had to do certain tasks, climb over things be comfortable around wheelchairs, be able to put his paws up on a hospital bed."

Napolitano says animal therapy is a calming program.

"Since Baci has been coming so long, so regularly, they've kind of formed attachments with him, and kind of relationships with him," Napolitano said.

Executive director Sandy Gbur sees many benefits having Baci on staff.

"I've seen kids that have been afraid of pets," Gbur said, "to all of sudden being an observer of that situation, and her coming in and then all of sudden, they say, 'Can I touch him? Can I pet him?' ... The good thing about Baci is that he doesn't ask for a raise."

"I certainly reward him when we get home," Napolitano said, "whether we buy a toy at the pet store, or he gets some special treats, or some time to swim in the little kiddie pool at home."

Baci was adopted from a shelter.

To learn more about animal therapy and WDSRA's program go to www.wdsra.com


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