Medicine on four legs: Assistance dogs for children
Medicine on four legs: Assistance dogs for children
Interview with Tatjana Kreidler, Founder and CEO, VITA e.V. Assistenzhunde
Dogs are a man's best friend. And an assistance dog is more than just an assistant to a person with disabilities. It not only helps with everyday tasks like opening doors or dressing, it is also a friend and companion and helps to form social connections – throughout its entire life. The VITA society, which presents its assistance dogs at the rehaKIND Forum, also subscribes to this philosophy.
In this REHACARE.com interview, Tatjana Kreidler talks about the tasks and responsibilities of assistance dogs, explains how they facilitate inclusion and describes how they can help children with disabilities to become more independent and self-determined.
Ms. Kreidler, children with disabilities or care needs are typically supported by their parents or family members. What benefits can assistance dogs provide for children?
Tatjana Kreidler: A VITA assistance dog is considered "medicine on four legs" and affects the mental, physical, social and cognitive levels. The dog helps with everyday tasks by picking up a dropped object for example. It also opens doors – both literally and figuratively. It opens the door to our society and promotes social inclusion by initiating interaction with other people, by sparking interest, breaking down inhibitions and barriers and by being the subject of conversation. An assistance dog can play a crucial role, especially when it comes to the lives of children and adolescents with disabilities. The dog gives a feeling of security, sense of belonging and offers emotional support. It is a partner and playmate and makes the child be more independent from his/her parents. The animal comforts, is a great listener and chases feelings of loneliness away. A dog accepts its "human being/child" exactly as he/she is, regardless of any physical disabilities. It will never judge and always be by its partner's side.
At the stand of VITA you can inform yourself about assistance dogs.
What makes it easy to bring children and dogs together? And what are some of the challenges?
Kreidler: Children love to learn and they learn quickly. It is typically easy for children to learn the virtues of punctuality and responsibility a dog requires. They are excellent in working and handling dogs and they adapt to new things with great ease. Children have not set the standards adults have. They embrace empathy and it is much easier for them to open up. Time and again, we notice that the assistance dogs can work wonders, especially with children. It's almost as if they hold the key to their hearts and souls. Having said that, we also encounter challenges during our work with the children. One challenge, for instance, are the parents because they control and guide their children. Some parents take a very rational approach to the "dog" subject and come to us with certain preconceived ideas and expectations. They expect a dog to automatically be a great influence and believe they don’t have to spend much time or effort to actualize this notion. However, this is often based on a lack of knowledge, and these are common misconceptions that can be easily corrected in conversations and settings.
Assistant dogs are more than just helpers in everyday life. They are friend, companion and soul comforter.
What feedback do you get from families or children who have an assistance dog?
Kreidler: Since the founding of VITA in 2000, we have brought 59 human-dog teams together and set them on their joint path. Half of these teams include children. We are simply overwhelmed by all the positive feedback. Not only do the assistance dogs enrich the lives of the children, they also enhance the lives of everyone in the family. The VITA dogs open up new vistas and make people see the world in a positive light - VITA changes lives. The children are beaming with joy and are simply happy with their assistance dog at their side. The parents are excited and tell us that the children have become more independent and no longer rely so much on the help of mom and dad. Thanks to the dog, children take on more responsibilities and build self-confidence. The children cheerfully tell us that they find new friends and are happy to subsequently have an improved social life as well. Quite often, we also hear that a child’s school performance has improved and some kids have been elected to become student speakers, which is something that obviously makes their parents very proud. This great feedback also fills us with great pride and motivates us to continue our work. Our goal is to continue helping many more children and their families and make their wish for an assistance dog come true in the future.
You can get to know the VITA teams and assistance dogs on all four days of REHACARE in the rehaKIND Forum (Hall 4, Stand H02). The presentation of their work will take place from Wednesday to Friday from 16:30 and on Saturday from 15:30.
Visit VITA also at their stand, Hall 4 / H19!
The interview was conducted by Elena Blume and translated from German by Elena O'Meara. REHACARE.com