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Special Needs Children Topic of Dexter Dog Trainer's Workshop

Michelle McCarthy will team with psychologist Dr. Mark Bowers to discuss social support therapy dogs in a free workshop at the Washtenaw Intermediate School District on Sept. 13.

Dexter Township resident Michelle McCarthy, owner of K9 Home Schooling, will co-host a free workshop about social support therapy dogs for children with special needs on Sept. 13.

The event will take place from 7-9 p.m. at the Washtenaw Intermediate School District, 1819 South Wagner Rd., in Ann Arbor.

McCarthy, who will discuss raising, training and working with a therapy dog, will present along with Dr. Mark Bowers of the Ann Arbor Center For Behavioral Pediatrics, who will discuss the "goodness-of-fit" between child and dog, including temperament, behavior, and needs.

“In my experience, I’ve seen kids who were shy or had social difficulties become more confident with their canine companion that also serves as a social icebreaker,” Bowers said.

While social support therapy dogs can be life-changing for children with autism, learning disabilities, developmental disabilities or chronic health conditions, a child and a canine companion must be a good fit, he said.

“This presentation will describe the child who will benefit most from one of these amazing and well-trained animals,” Bowers said. “In some of my most challenging social skills cases, these dogs have opened up many doors and helped to provide a previously nonexistent ‘bridge’ into the social world while creating friendships in the process.”

McCarthy, who for years has helped families raise and train their own therapy dog, said she has seen both ends of the spectrum – successful unions, and situations where the child and dog are not compatible.

She said a family must have time to care for a dog, provide proper exercise, socialization, and vet care, and commit to ongoing training.

“We hope to help parents and professionals better understand how therapy dogs help people,” she said. “We hope to educate people so they can make the best decision for their family or practice.”

McCarthy has been working closely with Ann Arbor physicians Kim Garver and Peter Strouse, whose son Michael was diagnosed with Attention Deficit Hyperactivity Disorder at the age of 8. When Michael started at Eton Academy in Birmingham, a school for children with learning differences and attention issues, an occupational therapist recommended the family get a large dog as a playmate and to help Michael learn about nurturing others and develop personal responsibility.

The result was that an 8-week-old yellow lab puppy named Jack. McCathy evaluated the breeder, helped the family pick out supplies and set up their home for the new arrival, and provided reading material and training tips.

Two years later, Michael and Jack are inseparable, and Garver said her 10-year-old son hascbecome a gentle and kind groomer and careful playmate. He has learned to express himself more lovingly and to give hugs, his mother said.

McCarthy is taking applications for her “Pawsitive Comfort Therapy Dog Training Program" for families, which slated to begin in January. She also offers several other classes around the area including Outdoor Adventures, Charm School, and Puppy and Dog Training Fundamentals, with sessions in Dexter and Chelsea, Ann Arbor and Saline.

For more information, visit www.k9homeschooling.com, e-mail Michelle@k9homeschooling.com or call 734-395-2608. To enroll in the Sept. 13 free workshop, call Ann Arbor Community Education
and Recreation at 734-994-2300.

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