Poodle Joy (Part One)
Places where Poodles Provide Help, Promote Healing and Produce Hope
By Donna Grant, LMSW
As a child, all of my best friends had four feet. Every bad day was better once I was with my dog … or my sheep … or my rabbit. I learned at an early age, the powerful, healing forces that lied under the velvet coats and downy fleeces of my childhood support system. My youth was spent in 4-H, raising and showing purebred sheep, and my parenting years were spent breeding Old English Sheepdogs and leading that same 4-H club. I was always scheming to make sure every kid I cared about had a lamb or a puppy because I knew the secret powers of a pet. I suppose it was destiny that I would pursue a career in social work and eventually understand the research in animal therapy work and science behind the magic of my youth.
Today, I breed Standard Poodles (Wool ‘n Wind Standard Poodles), focusing on raising dogs with the temperament to do important work. I promote Wool ‘n Wind pups to families who need a special dog to be a friend to their autistic child, or the court jester at the summer camp in the country for inner city kids, or a reading buddy to a bashful child learning how to read, or a ‘port in the storm’ for a room full of children who had to face the tragedy of losing a classmate. My dogs visit the elderly, and my matriarch, Alli (Wool ‘n Wind She’s My Best Friend, CGC) did her best work when she lied with an elder friend, a women who, in her hay day, bred and showed Airedales, to help her to feel settled and relaxed as she made her final journey – and passed away in peace.
And so it is this incredibly important work which I will highlight in the coming issues of The Poodle Network. I will bring you stories from everywhere that Poodles are doing purposeful work. If you know of a place in your community where Poodles are engaged in making a difference, I’d love to hear about it. Taking full advantage of this opportunity to share stories about the dogs we love, I offer my first column of Poodles with a Purpose, featuring the small, private special education school where a few of my dogs go to work every day.
As you drive through Olneyville, a once-blighted and seemingly forgotten section of the City of Providence, RI, it is clear that this part of town was not a part of the city’s renaissance of the late 90’s. Only a mile from the famed Federal Hill, and an equally short distance from Brown University, Olneyville is known for its NY System Hot Weiners, and its current efforts toward urban re-vitalization. It is also the home of C.I.T.E. School, the Center for Individualized Training and Education. A private, not-for-profit school for children with multiple physical, intellectual and developmental disabilities established in 1977, C.I.T.E. is housed in a two-story brick building on a one-way street that sits across the from the city’s bustling car wash. On the approach, one might think whatever is happening on this street is not good, until you ring the school’s bell.
On most days, you would be greeted by Maslow (Ch Alaman W’nW Spectacular Sail, CGC), a beautiful black standard Poodle who has assumed the role of sentinel, ever-vigilant about his responsibility to alert the staff to any visitor, parent, delivery man, mail carrier or guest. All who enter can count on being greeted with a gruff bark, a wagging tail and … if he likes you, a wet kiss. Maslow also watches over any student who visits the front offices of the school. The bond between
Poodle and pupil is evident in the smiles from the children and the wagging tail of their canine caretaker.
When you enter the foyer at C.I.T.E. one of the first signs you see is a 5’ poster that tells the students which dogs are ‘In’ on that day. Students can look up and see if their reading buddy will be Alli, or Ebbi, or Amelia (Ch Wool ‘n Wind Eye of the Storm, CGC). Last year, two members of the behavioral team, having realized the value of the Poodle’s presence in their work, purchased a Standard Poodle of their own. Today, Hamilton and Louie are the two newest members of the CITE staff, reporting to work daily to make a difference. The dogs are often in the classroom with the younger children, with ‘puppy time’ frequently used as an incentive for students to complete their work, or follow through with an instruction. The older students, many who are tasked with carrying out school errands in the community as they are learning independent living skills, will be asked to go to the post office or the grocery store with a staff member. These walks around town always include a Poodle, partly for the security they provide, and partly because they inevitably invite an inquisitive stranger to ask about the dog. These spontaneous social interactions, supervised by both staff and canine, provide invaluable skill building opportunities for an emerging young adult.
C.I.T.E is one of growing number of schools that are embracing the benefits of having canines available for student support throughout the day. Their principal, Dr. Bill Anderson, appreciates the intellect, temperament and hypo-allergic attributes of the breed. “I have worked as a school administrator in the field of Special Education for over 35 years. I was not an animal person in my earlier years, but after I acquired my first Standard and brought her to work me, it was clear that being with me was not just good for Ebbi, it was beneficial to the students to have her here. As a behaviorist, it’s remarkable to watch the effect these dogs have on emotionally dysregulated students. Often, just having the dogs go over and sit with a student will begin to calm them down. When child puts their hands on the dog, you can watch their body relax – you can see the anger or frustration dissipate. The Poodles at C.I.T.E. are an important resource in our work.”
Another example of the remarkable work the Poodles at CITE do can been seen if you catch Lizzie in the hallway with a four-footed staff member. Lizzie is a multi-handicapped six-year-old girl who struggles with the behaviors developed from an early childhood steeped in trauma. She is very reactive, and often emotionally dysregulated. The Poodles have proven to be her greatest allies. Children like Lizzie struggle to effectively express their feelings, and become quickly frustrated when no one can understand. There is often rapid escalation that culminates in aggressive outbursts. But … at C.I.T.E. school, Lizzie has a few four footed friends who understand. They are patient, and willing to sit for as long as it takes to help Lizzie re-gain self-control. And, as Lizzie sits in the hall and pets a Poodle, as she winds her fingers in their soft coat and feels the sensory comforts afforded by those clean, soft curls – and she finds her composure. Her voice quiets. Her body relaxes. Her smile re-appears … And that is Poodle magic. It’s a wonderful thing.
About the Author
Donna Grant is a life-long breeder of registered livestock and purebred dogs. For the last ten years she has bred Standard Poodles under the Wool ‘n Wind kennel name. She is a licensed Social Worker in CT where she has spent most of her career working with adolescents and has found her Poodles to be her single greatest resource when connecting with at-risk youth. To contact her with information about other Poodles doing purposeful work, you can email Donna at firstname.lastname@example.org.