May 2014

Canine therapy project

Since the beginning of 2013, a joint program has been launched: the Training Center of Drug Detection Dogs (Centro de Adiestramiento de Canes, C.A.C) in Cochabamba to promote canine therapy. Children with physical and mental disabilities are being comforted by specific trained dogs that stimulate and enhance their self-confidence.

By: Heloise Texier
Projects Abroad Volunteer
Brussels, Belgium

A C.A.C officer and his therapy-dog
Photo: Heloise Texier

Policemen are known for many types of action, from defense to detection of explosives, from fighting against drug trafficking to rescue missions. All these activities are conducted with the help of dogs that are used for their incredible flair. In addition to these defense and security programs, the eighteen C.A.C officers of Cochabamba and six of their twenty-four trained dogs are currently conducting a social program with disabled children in five different centers in Cochabamba : C.A.D.T, Maria Cristina, Puntiti, Creva, and Arnulao Chumer.

This project has existed for a long time, but funds were recently added in order to facilitate vehicle movements. Indeed, canine therapy is about the exchange and moves as three different stakeholders are interconnected to make it work: the Training Center of Drug Detection Dogs, the care centers, and Project Abroad, which has a long care background and makes the connections between both identities. “Each part is taking advantage of the knowledge of each other to improve results,” explains Freddy Mitta, the project abroad care supervisor.

The healing power of dogs

In canine therapy, patients that don’t respond to normal physiotherapy find an alternative way to stimulate their bodies and brains. They are learning to let their guard down by playing, giving commands, and building trust with the dog. During these activities, children are concentrated on their relationship with the animal. Theses interactions enable the brain to release various neurotransmitters. Stress is lowered while bonding, rewarding, and motivation increase.

At first, few sessions are necessary for the patient to interact with the animal. “Dogs are trained to socialize, but it´s the child who has to start the approach,” confirmed lieutenant Orellana, who has been following the therapy sessions since the beginning. Mr. Ademar, director of the C.A.D.T, added that “around 30% of the twenty-seven children were scared during the first sessions as dogs were considered to bite and be aggressive. Now they wait for their arrival eagerly!”

A boy interacting with one of the dogs
Photo: Heloise Texier

Progress is measured every month by the psychologist and the therapist supervising each child, but results are quite astonishing after only two weeks of the program. “There are children that couldn’t move a part of their body, now they are stretching their hands to touch the dog, touch the hair, the nose … It`s a different texture … They laugh!” continued Freddy.

Mr. Ademar confirmed that “the first immediate benefits we have seen with the therapy are in the childrens’ aggressiveness. It has been lowered, and these positive effects last for the whole day.”

The hour the child spends every week with the dogs doesn’t appear to him as an exercise, whereas they are in fact improving their motilities and spirits. “There are children with very severe mental or physical disabilities,” said lieutenant Orellana, “but they try to throw the ball, to get to where the dog is or even to run faster than him.”

A Police Social Program

The dogs are perfect playtime partners
Photo: Heloise Texier

Dogs involved in this project are all coming from the C.A.C and have been selected for their patience and playing aptitudes. Training lasts approximately six month, 20 minutes per day, depending on the breeds. It`s mainly based on games. Even if Golden Retrievers are often used as therapy dogs due to their gentle disposition, “all races can be used till they have been trained from youth,” said Captain Richard A. Pacheo Alvarado, C.A.C.’s commander. Actually, “the first part of the training is about observation. You will observe the puppy’s attitude to know in which area it will serve best.” As police dogs, they can practice different specialties that will be determined during the first few months. One of the best dog therapists is actually a street cocker dog called Toby, “el dueño de la casa,” joked the commander. He was found sick and rescued by the police but never wanted to leave the center. He can now act in defense, search, and therapy. All the policemen involved in the program have as well undergone a three- month specific training period and are supervised by the commander, who has a lifetime experience in this area.

This side of social projects the police is running is unknown by the public and the commander hopes “this will change the sometimes negative idea some people have regarding police activities.” Watching one session of canine therapy, one can wonder who the patient is. Children are laughing while throwing a ball, dogs are running and swaying their tails bringing it back. Police officers are grinning from ear to ear! The project will be evaluated in six months to see how far children have progressed and from there, the commander hopes, extended it to another facility.

Although several species of amaranto are considered weeds, people around the world use the plant as a leaf vegetable, cereal, in soups, cakes, cookies, bread, and even as an ornament! Cochabamba has lots to o¡er with its multifunctional plant, amaranto, no matter if you want something for dinner or have a craving for something sweet. And guess what?! It's really healthy!
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