Dogs Are The Unsung Heroes Of The Special Olympics

April 30, 2020

Special Olympics has been enhancing the lives of people with intellectual disabilities since 1968. What began as a backyard summer camp has grown into a global movement with 5.4 million athletes participating in 106,000 events in 193 countries!

More than a million volunteers help ensure the games run smoothly, and not all of them are human. Many dogs accompany the athletes, families, and friends of the organization, offering services only pups can provide.

Phillips joined Special Olympics in 2015. First as a volunteer and swim coach, then as a member of the organization’s Communications and Brand Department. In her experience, many of the athletes feel more comfortable around dogs than people. They find that dogs provide a calming presence and never pass judgment.

“In the sports world dogs are really appreciated because they offer support if you are conceding a match or help you deal with a loud, crowded arena,” Phillips says. “Plus, you want to do well and dogs help you relax before the big race or game or whatever the case may be.”

Service Dogs

Some competitors have highly trained service dogs that assist them during events as well as in their daily lives. Genuine service dogs must perform specific tasks related to the owner’s disability.

Stephanie Stein’s Shih Tzu, Riley acts as her service dog. Stein is a member of the Maryland Special Olympics Baltimore County Swimming Team, and also competes in soccer, bowling, bocce ball, and snowshoeing.

“I can take him everywhere, including Special Olympics stuff,” she says. “He’s kind of like our Special Olympics mascot for the swimming team.”

Therapy Dogs

It is also quite common to find certified therapy dogs at competitions. These outgoing pups are trained to offer stress relief to anyone and everyone in need. Spending time with a therapy dog has been shown to lower blood pressure and heart rate, reduce anxiety, and stimulate the release of feel-good hormones.

Canine Entertainers

Occasionally dogs come along to provide entertainment and athletic inspiration. The Canine Stars Stunt Dog show delighted onlookers at the Opening Ceremonies of the 2019 Special Olympics Illinois State Summer Games.

Not only are these pups super talented, they are also a menagerie of mixed breeds rescued from shelters across the country. Their show is a reminder of how much we can all achieve with a little support and encouragement.

Family Pets

Not all of the canine heroes involved with Special Olympics have specialized training. Some are simply beloved family pets and devoted friends. However, these dogs still have an important role to play.

In a recent virtual chat session, Special Olympics Maryland athlete, Todd Polleyn spoke fondly of his 12-year-old rescue pooch, Gizmo.

“My favorite thing is when Gizmo sleeps in my bed. He takes heart meds just like me.”

Athlete Victoria has been especially anxious since the current health crisis temporarily shut down all Special Olympics events. Her dog Rose, a German Shepherd/Rottweiler mix is not a therapy dog. Yet somehow she has an innate ability to sense when Victoria is in distress.

“Rose calms Victoria’s anxiety, especially with this current self isolation,” Victoria’s mother, Jaqueline McDonald Bovay tells iHeartDogs.

No matter their level of training, the dogs of Special Olympics offer love and affirmation to the athletes and their supporters. That must be why they fit in so well with an organization devoted to friendship and inclusivity.

 

  • Most Recent News

    Students Get Therapy Dog

    January 8, 2021

    When middle school students return to class on Jan. 11, they’ll find a new face at the door: Daisy. Daisy is a therapy dog and the personal pet of Rob Kreger, principal of the Rock L. Butler Middle School. The five-year-old golden retriever is not a school pet or mascot, but rather a working dog […]

    Read more

    Therapy Dogtor

    January 8, 2021

    Last March, Caroline Benzel, a third-year medical student, began to notice the stress and discomfort her nurse friends were feeling from the pressures of the ongoing Covid-19 pandemic. “[Personal protective equipment] can be really rough on the skin,” Benzel, 31, tells PEOPLE. Benzel and her 3-year-old Rottweiler, Loki (who’s also a therapy dog) hatched a […]

    Read more

    Therapy Dog Pups

    January 8, 2021

    When Stanley the miniature fox terrier’s owner passed away, the little dog started a ‘paw-some’ new role – bringing puppy love to some of the Gold Coast’s oldest residents. After Carinity Cedarbrook Diversional Therapist Julianne Staff adopted Stanley, he began visiting the aged care community at Mudgeeraba as a therapy dog. Therapy dogs help to […]

    Read more

    Puppy Cams

    January 7, 2021

    A nonprofit is providing an unusual form of therapy for those on the front lines of the coronavirus pandemic – puppy cams! “You spend five minutes with a puppy and try not to smile,” said registered nurse Robin Lingg Lagrone. Lingg Lagrone says watching little furballs wag their tails and prance on their paws helps […]

    Read more

    Pet Committee

    January 7, 2021

    When Moore County’s school doors were abruptly closed earlier in 2020, two- and four-legged volunteers from the Moore County Citizens’ Pet Responsibility Committee (PRC) were in their 12th year of presenting a six-session Pet Responsibility Education Program for fourth-graders. The PRC quickly shifted gears and placed its program materials online as part of a home […]

    Read more

    The Right Rescue Dog

    January 7, 2021

    If your New Year’s resolution is to add a canine family member, good for you. Somewhere out there is the perfect puppy or adult dog for your family. You have a lot of things to think about when you begin to look for that new family member, puppy or dog? Large or small? Purebred or […]

    Read more

    Police Dog Attack

    January 7, 2021

    A resolution headed to the Duluth City Council on Monday could put to rest a lawsuit filed by Teri Lynn Ehlers, an employee of the Patch Motel, who was bitten by a Duluth police dog named Oakley. Former Duluth Police Officer Marc Johnson was a registered guest of the Warroad establishment May 28, 2018, when […]

    Read more

    PAWS With A Cause

    January 7, 2021

    Pebble Hill Plantation and the Thomas County Public Library are pleased to announce the upcoming Enlightening Bites program, “PAWS With a Cause,” on Friday, January 8, 2021 at noon in the Flipper Room of the Library. The program is being presented by Jeri Anderson, field representative. Anderson is recently retired from the City of Monticello, […]

    Read more

    Police Canine Team

    January 7, 2021

    Kingston Police revealed in a news release late Wednesday afternoon that they’ve been keeping a four-legged secret for roughly three months. The force announced it added a second canine unit, with the arrival of police service dog Dak this past October. He is working with Const. Jeff Dickson, while police service dog Bask is working […]

    Read more

    K9s For Warriors

    January 7, 2021

    K9s For Warriors, a nonprofit organization that provides military veterans suffering from severe PTSD, traumatic brain injury and military sexual trauma with service animals, recently changed the name of its main campus to honor its leader and founder Shari Duval. Duval began K9s For Warriors in 2011 after her son returned from two tours in […]

    Read more

    More Recent News