Therapy Dogs

July 3, 2020

A jovial girl leads a caramel labradoodle around the park, they run up the hill carefree like any other child and their pet.

But there is one small clue that this relationship is different, Mack the dog, wears a blue coat indicating he is a therapy dog.

Tara Highnam is calm and focused as she leads Mack around, but this is unusual for the autistic girl that – as her mum Ash says – ‘lives at the tip of an iceberg’.

Small things can trigger Tara’s sensory overload which can lead to a full-blown meltdown of screaming, crying and sometimes throwing things.

It can be the classroom being too noisy, having a lot of people around her, or being told not to sort the crayons into colours that cause her to “explode like a shaken up bottle of Coke”, says Ash.

Seeing Tara with Mack fills Ash’s heart with joy.

“She’s calm, she’s present. She’s doesn’t have everything going crazy in her mind so she just wants to run and get away from it.”

Mackie – as Tara likes to call him – isn’t her therapy dog, they are playing to see what type of dog will be suited to her needs.

Tara says her dog hasn’t been born yet but she will get one.

Ash just needs to raise $13,500. She has a Givealittle page and has received a $2500 grant from the Mazda Foundation.

Once Tara receives a dog it will enable her to live more like a child without disabilities and hopefully go to school full time, says Ash.

The eight-year-old does half days at school because the environment is too much for her.

“It will enable Tara to reintegrate back to the community, because she struggles a lot now, even just to go to the supermarket.

“It becomes too much, too much noise, too many people, the sounds are very overwhelming for her and are huge triggers.”

Ash says the term reintegrating makes it seem like Tara has come out of prison and in some ways her condition is like that.

Tara has ADHD, global developmental delay and sensory processing issues along with autism.

Each dog is trained specifically to suit the needs of their owner says Therapy Dogs New Zealand director Wendy Isaacs.

“The aim is not to produce a service dog that performs tasks per se, but to produce a companion, a friend, because these kids don’t make friends and they don’t get invited to parties and it’s really hard.”

The dogs are also trained to help calm their owner and promote sleep by sitting on a person’s lap and being patted which brings them back to the present.

“They’re relaxed and they’re able to keep the child relaxed.

“They’ve got to have really good obedience, really good social behaviour. A dog they can take with them everywhere because if they have a dog in the home that provides really good therapy, but when they have to leave their home the anxiety increases and they can’t bring it down [themselves].

“There’s just something between a child and a dog that we can’t understand. There’s a connection and something that happens and it just works.”

Mack and Tara’s quick rapport is evidence of this and Ash hopes to have a therapy dog for her early next year.

  • Most Recent News

    Big Dogs Need Owners

    October 9, 2020

    When the shutdown orders took full effect, it became nearly impossible to find a small dog available for adoption as Southlanders sought furry companions. In many Southland shelters, only larger breeds remained available for adoption. Now Los Angeles Animal Service is touting the joys of big dogs while offering discounted adoption fees for larger breeds […]

    Read more

    Service Dog Walkathon

    October 9, 2020

    On Saturday, October 3, hundreds of walkers from across 15 states joined the path to bettering the world for children with autism and their families as part of BluePath Service Dogs’ fourth annual walkathon. The family-friendly fundraiser – this year held virtually – raised more than $120,000 to further BluePath’s mission of providing autism service […]

    Read more

    Service Dog In The Marching Band

    October 9, 2020

    In a year that is anything but normal, the Jones College Maroon Typhoon Marching Band has welcomed its first known service dog member this fall. Laurie, a 3-year-old golden retriever, is baritone saxophone player Sara-Beth McKellar’s service dog. The Vicksburg native was diagnosed with epilepsy as a sophomore in high school after her first seizure. […]

    Read more

    Church Blesses Animals

    October 9, 2020

    St. Mary’s Church of the Immaculate Conception in Port Jervis hosted a special outdoor service last Sunday afternoon to bless the community’s pets, animals and other living creatures. In keeping with current pandemic rules, pet owners wore masks, remained distant, and took part in praying for dogs, cats, turtles, and other pets and animals around […]

    Read more

    Police Welcomes New Canine

    October 9, 2020

    Young Kingston Police service dog Bask may look small, but his handler says his training and energy are proving that he’s up to fill the shoes of his predecessor. “I think he’s going to be a great little dog,” Const. Jeff Dickson said, looking down at his new partner. A partner that, wearing the right […]

    Read more

    Dog Park For Travelers

    October 9, 2020

    St. Petersburg is widely recognized as a dog-friendly city, and St. Pete-Clearwater International Airport is making sure its four-legged visitors and their humans feel welcome by rolling out the artificial turf carpet. With the completion of the airport’s parking and roadway project – part of a series of multi-million dollar improvements at the airport over the […]

    Read more

    Service Dog Helps Firefighters

    October 9, 2020

    Firefighters battling the Archie Creek and Thielsen fires have had some long, exhausting days. But for some, their troubles seemed to melt away once they got back to camp. Why? Meet Ralph Colombo. He hauls oversize loads. And joining Ralph is his service dog, Cowboy – the morale boosting, firefighting puppy. “He just keeps my […]

    Read more

    Pet Therapy Program

    October 9, 2020

    Saturday, October 10 is World Mental Health Day, which this year has a new sense of urgency for many. Covid-19 has taken a mental and emotional toll on healthcare workers across the U.S but there is a program boosting the spirits of doctors and nurses on the frontlines. At UC Irvine Medical Center in Southern […]

    Read more

    A Service Dogs Place

    October 9, 2020

    A new Pineville nonprofit that helps people with disabilities obtain service dogs has made its first match. The Saber Life Foundation was started in March by Danea Key and her husband Joel. They provide people with trained service dogs, paying 51 percent of the cost, with the client paying the other 49 percent. Service dogs […]

    Read more

    Dog Beating Cancer

    October 9, 2020

    A little over a year after a local dog was given only a few months to live after being diagnosed with bone cancer, she is still in remission and will be celebrated her twelfth birthday this month. Cocoa has been with her owner, Bucyrus resident Christie Auck, since she was nine-weeks-old. “On Aug. 18, 2019, […]

    Read more

    More Recent News