K9s For Kids Program
Welcome to the K-9's for Kids Pediatric Therapy Unit, a volunteer, non profit organization dedicated to kids in Western Massachusetts and Connecticut! This incredible group of dogs and handlers donate their time to bring smiles and joy to children suffering from a wide range of physical, emotional, and learning disabilities.
Originally started in 1999 at the request of the Melha Shrine Unit as a volunteer therapy unit for Shriner's Hospital for Children in Springfield, Massachusetts, the unit has now expanded to also serve other pediatric medical facilities, camp programs, library programs, and school systems. The unit currently consist of 30 dogs from Massachusetts and Connecticut, ranging in age from 2 to 12, and includes the following represented breeds: German Shepherd, Shelties, Rottweilers, Labrador Retrievers, Golden Retrievers, Pug, Collie, Bichon Frise, Havanese, Australian Shepherds, Portugese Water Dogs, Bassett Hound, Border Collie, Miki, and All Americans. In the school enviroment, the dogs are used to enhance self-esteem by offering non-judgemental, non-threatening attention while enhancing verbalization and improving communication and reading skills. In the hospital setting, the dogs decrease anxiety and stress providing a diversion from hospital routine, stimulate physical activity and social interaction, provide the patient with a sense of control and mastery, and enhance the therapeutic goals for the patient as assessed by the physical/occupational and child life therapists.
All dogs in the unit must successfully pass the AKC Good Citizenship Test, an approved 7 week Pediatric Therapy Dog Unit Training Class (there is one offerered at Sandy Meadow Farm), and the K-9's for Kids Performance and Evaluation Test. To enter the Pediatric Course, dogs must exhibit excellent social skills around other dogs, must have moderate obedience skills, and must absolutely adore being around kids. Dogs must be current on all required vaccinations, be physically healthy and be properly groomed.
The pediatric course is designed to teach dogs and handlers how to cope with the diverse and often unexpected situations that can arise when working with kids in hospital and school environments. Not only do we solidify their working knowledge of sit, down, stand, stay, leave it, and come, but we also teach additional cues that are utilizied during visitations including gotcha, come up, place, beep beep, freeze, gentle, get back and settle. Dogs are taught tricks and retrieving for functional and entertainment purposes, as well as exposed to various pieces of medical equipment that they must learn to maneuver and accept. Groups of approximately 10 - 20 children and their parents are included in the training program from weeks 4 to 7 to teach the dogs to recognize and cope with natural child reactions including crying, grabbing, gripping, avoidance, running, screaming, fear, and hugging. Each week's focus is on a different age group ranging from infants and toddlers through teenagers, teaching various techniques and skills needed to enhance the interaction between child and dog. This training process also allows evaluation of the dog and handler in a group setting working with other teams. Since most of our visitations involve multiple dogs, it is critical that all of the dogs display the necessary social ability and focus to work in that stimulating environment.
It is important to recognize that the training involved to take part in the K-9's for Kids Unit is required by the facilities our dogs service. Existing therapy certified teams with other organizations that wish to visit any of our service locations will have to attend a pediatric training class per hospital/school regulations and will need to pass the K-9's for Kids Test. There will be additional costs beyond any prerequisite training costs once applying and/or accepted into the K-9's for Kids unit including the cost for the identifying uniform ( vest and bandana - approximately $50), the K-9's for Kids Test Charge ($10), and membership fees ($50 annually). It is also important to understand that completing a Pediatric Training Course does not guarantee entrance into the K-9's for Kids unit. There are many factors involved in determining a handler/dog team's suitability to work with children and in this unit.
As a member of the K-9's for Kids unit, I am very proud of this program and the dog/handler teams that have chosen to complete the prequisistes and become part of the working unit. Each visit/session that I attend at the hospitals and at the schools affirms my reason for this invaluable program as I observe the delight and the success of the children that participate. If you would like additional information about the program, please don't hesitate to contact me at K9TrainMa@aol.com or call the school at (413) 572 - 4936.
Please visit www.k9sforkids.net for more information!