The perfect partnership: Dogs paired with developmentally disabled

The perfect partnership: Dogs paired with developmentally disabled

Friends of Leroy Brown pairs dogs with developmentally disabled

By Liz Young

 

Photo by Danae King Laurie Eversole, of Lima, is about to throw a toy for her Labrador mix, Coco, at Yappy Hour.

A local day services program for adults with developmental disabilities has taken to heart the adage that dogs are indeed our best friends — pairing its participants with four-legged partners to create a unique niche.

Friends of Leroy Brown is part of the nonprofit organization Innovative Opportunities, and uses a group of nine privately owned and trained dogs to teach responsibility, job skills and social skills to its participants, according to Janet Seward, CEO of the nonprofit.

“It’s really a cool concept. I wouldn’t start a day program like the others. I wanted something different,” she said. “I wanted (participants) to get that feeling to actually give to somebody else, a sense of pride, of self-esteem.”

And the name? It’s not inspired by the 1973 Jim Croce song about the bad, bad Leroy Brown. This Leroy Brown is a dog, and certainly not bad.

Several years ago, Leroy tangled with a raccoon and lost. With severe injuries, area veterinarian Dr. Nathan Metz saved him and, although Leroy’s injuries left him with disabilities, he beat the odds. Still living with Metz, Seward said Leroy was partly the inspiration for the program.

Dogs, she thought, could give people with disabilities a way to connect with the community.

Additional inspiration came from John Martin, director of the Ohio Department of Developmental Disabilities. Seward said Martin once told a story about how people would “look through” his son, who has disabilities. So, he got him a dog, and suddenly people would stop and talk to him about the dog.

“Putting Leroy’s story together with the John Martin story — what if we gave people with disabilities the opportunity to give to the community and make a connection?” she asked. “Dogs are unconditional love … they don’t care if you have a disability.”

Participants receive training on dog handling and learn to feed, groom and clean up after their canine counterparts. They also accompany the dogs on visits to nursing homes, according to Andrew Rowe, program coordinator. A certified dog trainer, Rowe said all dogs in the program are certified by the American Kennel Club’s Canine Good Citizen program.

Fay Murphy, of Lima, said she has considered Friends of Leroy Brown for her daughter, Kylie, who will graduate this spring from Marimor School, through the Allen County Board of Developmental Disabilities. Fay said she likes the idea of Kylie learning more responsibility and taking care of animals. Kylie has a cat, but the Leroy Brown program could expand her skills and give her something different from other day services options.

Working with animals can promote an all-around sense of well-being for people with disabilities, according to Erin Koenig, behavior support specialist with ACBDD. Building relationships with animals creates positive companionship and enhanced self-esteem, she said.

And it’s good for the dogs, too. Rowe said the interaction and attention they get is highly beneficial for their health and happiness. It’s a win-win.

In addition to the program, the nonprofit recently opened Leroy’s Place, a doggie daycare site. As participants gain handling skills, they can volunteer at the daycare where Seward said they learn job skills that could eventually lead to employment.

“We’re trying to make it full circle. We’re bringing people over (to the daycare), exposing them to the work site, training them,” she said.

FRIENDS OF LEROY BROWN

Address: 1662 W. Breese Road, Suite B Annex, Lima, OH 45806

Phone: 567-940-1337

Website: leroybrown.org

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