Cariola Canines Can Do!


If you happen to be walking the halls of Mary Cariola Children’s Center school or residential homes, don’t be surprised to see some four legged friends sharing the hallways with you.

Animals have long been recognized as being a positive force when brought into multiple therapeutic environments. Specifically, dogs have a calming and therapeutic effect. They help people cope with emotional issues, physical disabilities and complex medical conditions like those we see here at Mary Cariola Children’s Center.

Service dogs are trained to provide specific support for individuals with disabilities such as visual or hearing difficulties, seizure disorders, and mobility challenges. The role of therapy dogs is to react and respond to people and their environment, under the guidance and direction of their handler.

In our classrooms, therapy suites and residential homes, it is common to see our dogs in action. Our furry colleagues carry out a number of duties such as laying on a student’s lap to provide sensory input, picking up toys/puzzle pieces and handing them to students, pulling students on scooter boards, holding writing utensils to “draw” while the student is also drawing, and much more!

While the goal is to assist in therapy, you can’t help seeing the smiles on the faces of everyone around the dogs. Students are not the only people helped by our therapy dogs. They are also here for staff, they help at counseling sessions, and help students get on or off the school bus.

Therapy dogs that at Mary Cariola are owned by either staff or volunteers. However, not just any dog can be a therapy dog. A great deal of training is conducted for dog and a handler. We congratulate Special Education Teacher Jean Peyton who recently received her certification as a professional dog trainer. Upon completing training courses and being approved to be part of Cariola’s Pet Therapy team, the dogs begin working with students and staff through a deliberate and detailed process. Therapy dogs can be of any breed and it may not have been planned to train them from birth. We do have one pet therapist that was bred specifically for the job.

Fidette is one of the newest members of the Cariola Canine team and is a therapeutic service dog, which is different than our other therapy dogs. Fidette was bred specifically to become a service dog and trained for two years with Canine Companions for Independence to become a certified service dog. CCI places these service dogs with individuals with disabilities or professionals who will use the dogs at work. Fidette knows over 50 commands. She has a specific command sequence that she adheres to and always wears a blue vest while she is working.

For the canine team at Cariola, it’s not all work and no play. Each dog has a specific schedule during the day and when they are not working you will find them relaxing on their break, in someone’s office, sleeping in their beds or playing with their toys. While the therapy dogs do not earn a paycheck, the services they provide to our students and staff is invaluable.

So, the next time you visit, say hello to our canine crew… Lucky, Trixie, Albert, Bailey, Brandy, Doyle, Clover and Fidette. Our four legged friends are playing an important role in discovering each child’s lifelong potential.

Fidette (l), Lucky and Trixie (r) on the job at Mary Cariola Children’s Center.

Fidette (l), Lucky and Trixie (r) on the job at Mary Cariola Children’s Center.