Wallingford therapy practice targets new four-legged partner

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WALLINGFORD — A friendly 2-year-old golden retriever who failed to become a service dog because she’s too distracted in public is embarking on a second career — but her “tuition” is expensive.

Kate Nicoll, whose nonprofit therapy firm Soul Friends partners with dogs and horses to treat children, young adults and families, has launched a campaign to raise $12,000 for the dog’s training as an establishment dog.

The dog — Kadi, whom Nicoll found through Educated Canines Assisting with Disabilities at Winsted — has the perfect personality for a facility dog, Nicoll said, as she is calm, friendly and tolerant. Kadi learned all the commands of a service dog, but found it difficult to focus on one person, as a service dog should, Nicoll said.

Carrie Picard, director of development at ECAD, said they don’t consider Kadi a dropout because it’s negative and dogs have different strengths. It’s just that an assistance dog should ignore everything that’s going on in public – dogs, birds, other people, noises – and concentrate on themselves.

“We call them career moves,” Picard said. “It’s like going to finance school and finding out that accounting is more your thing.”

Nicoll said Kadi would do well with groups and in schools due to her calm and loving nature, and would be a perfect complement to the practice of Nicoll’s therapists who do about 225 visits a month in partnership with a dog or a horse.

Nicoll said there was a time when she would have done the training herself, but health issues will make that impossible.

Nicoll said she contacted ECAD two years ago in case they had a suitable dog that wouldn’t work as an assistance dog, and she got the phone call two weeks ago.

She founded Soul Friends in 2003 when an accident caused a spinal cord injury. She found a healing dog and decided to apply it to her practice. Since then, Nicoll has acquired additional health issues, including severe blood pressure fluctuations that make the physical ups and downs of dog training difficult.

“What they (dogs) provide is a comfort, a positive contact experience that sometimes traumatized or abused children don’t get,” Nicoll said. She said dogs are non-judgmental, bringing newness, joy, love and connection “in a way that regular talk therapy doesn’t.”

Nicoll has a therapy dog ​​she trained, Emmett, a 4-and-a-half-year-old cattle dog mix who is great with kids, she says, but isn’t at his best in group programs or school because of his high energy level.

“Emmett is fun, happy, but the kids are like, ‘Can he sit on my lap? Can I come and give him a belly massage? “Said Nicoll. “I have to say, ‘Sorry, Emmett just isn’t that dog.’

Kadi is calm, friendly, tolerant of different behaviors and can get along well with children who have impulsiveness issues, she said.

She said dogs can be children for clients experiencing trauma or loss, children with anxiety, school avoidance, depression.

She said therapy animals have different strengths.

“They’re not supposed to be obedience champions,” she said. “It’s a relationship.”

Nicoll has a GoFundMe account set up to pay ECAD to train Kadi for the new role – they have already raised $1,200 – and are seeking corporate sponsorships and other donations. For more information or to donate, email kate@soul-friends.org or call 203-679-0849.

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