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Pet Therapy Comes to TLC

Familylinks’ Therapeutic Learning Center now has two furry friends thanks to a new pet therapy program in which registered dogs visit the students for sessions filled with plenty of fun and relaxation. Lynn Pilarski and Sue Francis are the dog owners who connected with TLC through their mutual friend and Familylinks volunteer, Debbie Lynch. Lynn and Sue both have registered therapy dogs who work in the community at hospitals and other environments where they can provide much needed comfort. When they heard about TLC, they knew the kids would benefit from monthly visits with the gentle animals. “I think they take away peace – the feeling of well-being,” Lynn said of the program. “When you do pet therapy, you go into anxiety-filled situations at times and this can be very calming.” Senior Program Manager Judy Shackney said the program will bring another aspect of growth to the students there. “We’ve had dogs informally involved in the past and the students connect with animals in a way that is unique – it can really soften them,” Judy said. “There’s something about the animal and human relationship that brings out a new side of the child.” The program kicked off Sept. 18 as Lynn had her Great Pyrenees dog, Jackie, in the library, while Sue brought Silin, a Golden Retriever, to a nearby classroom. When the first student walked in and spotted Jackie, a smile spread across his face as he immediately started giggling. “Jackie is 11 – how old are you?” Lynn asked the student. “I’m 7,” he replied as he was petting the dog. Sue and Silin relaxed on a carpet in a classroom, with the gentle Golden Retriever laying across the floor as students reached out to pet her. Sue answered questions about her loyal friend and told the students Silin had to go to school just like they do in order to become a therapy dog. “She has the same eyes as me!” one student said. Sue replied, “Yes, she has big brown eyes.” Debbie said she’s happy to have helped bring this great program to the students of TLC. “It’s great – it’s uplifting to see the response of the kids,” she said. “They make everyone happy. We’re glad to have the opportunity to come to Familylinks – it’s a good experience for all of us.” The three friends are excited to continue to spread the unconditional love that both Silin and Jackie have to offer. “You walk away with a smile on your face,” Sue said as Lynn added laughing, “And maybe some white hair and a little bit of drool.”

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