How do you measure success when working with young adults who are multiply challenged? In very small steps.
When our therapy program, Love Dog Adventures, was approached by Danville Services to visit with their clients living in a group home in Las Vegas, I knew we had the right animals and handlers.
Danville Services Corp. began as two side-by-side group homes in Riverton, Utah. Today, Danville is active in four states—Utah, Arizona, Nevada and Oregon—where they provide a full range of services for people with disabilities. They offer their clients supervised apartments, supported living arrangements, supported employment and day training services.
Visiting Danville falls under our Response to Intervention program, whereby we harness the power of the pets to bring about cognitive, physical or emotional connection.
The six young adults living in the group home in Las Vegas all experience life through a different set of challenges. Only one is minimally verbal and none are mobile. Most cannot eat food on their own and spend their days sitting or lying down. The staff is extraordinary, respectful, encouraging, proactive and loving.
For our first visit I brought my little Kirby alone. I wanted to determine which other team members would be appropriate for this very unique population. When we first entered the home, to some it could appear very sad. Children and young adults sitting together in a living room and an almost one-to-one ratio of support staff. Nurses milling around tending to every need and talking to the children and understanding their sounds in return.
But after just a few brief moments the atmosphere took on another feeling. As one young girl sat with Kirby on his blanket on her lap, she actually turned towards him as if to say “what is this furry thing on my lap?” After a short time she made contact with her hand. Perhaps by mistake. Perhaps by desire. Either way she touched the little dog and the joy on her face was palpable. She sat with Kirby for quite a while and when I reached out to lift him to visit with another child, she reached out to me as if to say “Don’t go – more.”
Her nurse was astonished that she showed such determined signs of cognitive awareness and was able to communicate her desire for more Kirby.
I then knew this would be a very important partnership for the Love Dogs and brought two more dogs the next time. We brought one of our largest dogs, George, an Old English Sheepdog, to see if the children would be frightened. But George is so calm and steady – his visit was a huge success. He was able to lie down on the floor next to the very low bed of one child and they had their own personal time together. And we had a younger dog, a bit more active and fun loving, Izzi, and one of the young men took such a shine to her. He actually “played” with her and laughed all through their visit.
Each visit will bring about breakthroughs, to be measured in tiny increments but with great joy. A hand reaching out, a smile, a direct look, a desire for “more.”
Six kids, three dogs, an immeasurable amount of love.