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Therapy Dogs Evie and Heidi Started Working with Children at the Centre

Bichon Havanese dogs Evie and Heidi, trained for the needs of children and youth of the socially vulnerable groups (AAI, AAT), have been working with a certified dog guide Renata Fridrih, educator – speech therapist, since 21 March 2017. The dogs were trained according to the holistic approach where the dog is in partnership with the guide, and their behaviour signals children’s needs while participating in working with them. Dogs work individually, in pairs and in groups of children. Their work in the project is conducted on the principle one dog – more clients.

There is a poster at the entrance to the Centre, and on the door to the space with dogs, there is a poster informing parents and children about the new “assistants”. Reactions and impressions of children have been excellent so far, contributing to the positive atmosphere and children’s smiles. The dogs now reside with Renata Firidrih, the project leader and a dog guide, certified according to the holistic approach. We are preparing to include them in the work of Day hospital at the Centre, all with parents’ permission.

In recent years, the Child and Youth Protection Centre of the City of Zagreb, and Association Naša Djeca (“Our Children”) from Sisak have been successfully cooperating in the project of employing trained dogs to provide for the needs of children and youth from the socially vulnerable groups (AAI, AAT) as successfully and efficiently as possible.

The project of training dogs to work with socially vulnerable groups of children was initiated in 2012 by the non-government organisation Naša Djeca Sisak with the support and approval of four Croatian ministries (The Ministry of Science, Education and Sport, The Ministry of Demography, Family, Youth and Social Policy, The Ministry of Health and the Ministry of Justice).

The implementation of the holistic approach in working with dogs and clients was initiated by the forefather of modern psychology, Sigmund Freud. Guidelines of his achievements and work with dogs as a supplement to diagnostic and therapeutic work with patients suffering from traumatisation proved a good example in practice. This holistic approach in training dogs is novelty in the world and it is considered innovative while showing excellent result. The choice of Bichon Havanese breed proved to be the best choice, because its characteristics suit children who are chronic patients and thus the biggest part of this population who need the help of a dog, can be included from their pre-school age.

Dog training is conducted in five modules, for the needs of children with chronic diseases, for special needs children and for abused and/or neglected children. The aim is to mitigate or prevent the effects of traumatisation.

The project is supervised by Vladimir Bolha, a dog trainer and international kinology judge, who also trains working dogs and sporting dog breeds with 42 years of experience in working with dogs.

Project leader from Association Naša Djeca Sisak is Renata Fridrih, an educator – speech therapist of the Child and Youth Protection Centre of the City of Zagreb. The number of partners from Croatia included in the project has been twenty-one so far (elementary schools, rehabilitation centres, health institutions, counselling services for children and youth, children’s home, non-government organisations, prison). New partners from the health and education systems are being prepared to participate, which shows an increasing interest in the project.

There are seven Bichon Havanese dogs in the project (Evie, Heidi, Nia, Sevi, Ziggy, Švrčo, Aya). Their presence always stimulates in children a feeling of pleasure and smiling, satisfaction, empathy and a wish to make friends with the dogs.

Results of the study by Flander, G., Persoglia – Petrac, A. and Fridrih, R. (2016), presented on the World Paediatric Congress in Canada, show that dogs trained by the holistic approach in this project significantly contribute to reducing stress and to positive reactions in pre-school children.