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A typical work day for The Swain Center with Facility Dog Austin

“NO! I no doe ‘oouh’!” The little boy screams to his mother as he enters The Swain Center waiting room. Michelle Chastain, Austin’s  puppy raiser and facility dog trainer, smiles sweetly as she stands in the office door watching the scene unfold. “Oh that’s too bad that you don’t want to go to school.”, she calmly says. “I guess you won’t get to play with Austin today and he’ll be so sad. What a bummer.” Upon hearing that Austin is at work today, the little boy quickly stops his tantrum, runs over to “Miss Michelle” and says with a big smile “I doe(go).” Michelle smiles and opens the office door wider and there is Austin, tail-a-wagging waiting for the next little boy to pet him. Once he gets his pat on the head, Austin turns around and leads the little boy right into Michelle’s office where he’s ready to work.

Throughout the day Austin continues this routine; come out – say hello – go back – get to work. He gets lots of treats and kisses from all the children who come through the office. Having Austin as part of the therapy program helps children feel more comfortable and reduces anxiety associated with speaking, which is a difficult task for these children.

Several clients have become mini-trainers and have improved their speech and language skills by practicing running Austin through his commands. Though, “Before being able to pet, brush, or give treats to Austin my clients have to do their work. If they do not say their sounds or words during the session they do not get the privilege of spending time with Austin. He’s a great motivator and has also helped clients who have sensory issues or have difficulty regulating their emotions.”, says Michelle.

Several of the Hispanic children who are seen by the other therapists wait at the door when they hear the “guau-guau” as they are so excited that he has come to work. They can’t wait to come and see him.

Having a facility dog here is the number one motivator to get a lot of the younger children excited about coming to speech therapy. Several children with Autism have had huge meltdowns and have not been able to continue therapy on days when there was not a PALS puppy at work. However, on the days when there is a PALS puppy, it is amazing to see the significant changes in a child on the autism spectrum.

With a dog present during a therapy session, these children show consistent and significant improvements in their abilities to focus, attend to and follow directions, interact socially with the therapist and other peers and effectively use their speech-language skills to communicate.

When asked how she felt about the PALS dogs Dr. Deborah Swain, owner of The Swain Center, replied, “I love these dogs. We are so blessed to have them here. They are amazing.”

We couldn’t have said it better. We love our PALS dogs!

Jenica Joseph, MS, CCC-SLP

Speech-Language Pathologist

PALS Puppy Raiser