STUDENTS at Howrah’s Southern Support School have been welcoming visitors of the four-legged variety lately in what has become an exciting new partnership with Guide Dogs Tasmania.
The two organisations are together embarking on the ‘Southern Hero Program’, which is giving students the opportunity to gain hands-on experience with dogs and ultimately assist them to develop skills that will help them contribute to their local community.
Southern Support School principal Kate Wilson said the fortnightly visits from Guide Dogs Tasmania were already having a “huge impact” on many students at the school.
“Seventy per cent of our students are living with an Autism Spectrum Disorder, which can make interacting with other children very challenging,” she said.
“Dogs have a wonderful effect on people and have proven to make a significant difference to children with a disability through their calming influence and ability to facilitate social interactions.
“The students absolutely love learning about the dogs and just their presence has brought so much joy.”
But it’s not just the school that has gained benefit from this new partnership.
For Guide Dogs Tasmania, it’s an opportunity for their training dogs to further develop their socialisations skills in preparation to become an important lifeline for someone with a disability.
Guide Dogs Tasmania guide dog services coordinator Kim Ryan said the new partnership was a “win-win” situation.
“With some of our training dogs being reclassified as therapy or companion dogs, it’s extremely important that they have a wide variety of social interactions so they become well-rounded dogs that can adapt to any situation,” she said.
“Southern Support School provides a great environment for our dogs, as they are being exposed to something entirely different than their daily lives.
“What’s even better is that through the program, we’re actually able to start changing lives before our dogs have even graduated.”
Southern Support School and Guide Dogs Tasmania will continue to work together on the Southern Hero Program, with hopes to ultimately change the lives of not only the students at the school, but the people the dogs will later go on to assist.
Ms Ryan currently visits the school fortnightly with training dogs Archie and Taylor.
“The program is a great introduction for students who may go on to have their own therapy or companion dog,” Ms Wilson said.
“And who knows, they may have already met their hero.”
To help Guide Dogs Tasmania raise and train more heroes, visit guidedogstas.com.au
To find out more about the Southern Hero Program on Facebook, search for “Southern Hero K9.”
Caption: Guide Dog in training, Taylor, meets Southern Support School student Dom. Photo credit: Ron Franks.