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Oklahoma City special care center’s best worker isn’t human

BRIAN KIMBALL Published: July 26, 2009
Special Care Inc. recently hired a new employee, and he instantly became the most popular worker.

He’s also one of the busiest at the northwest Oklahoma City center, which primarily serves disabled children.

He works a 9 a.m. to 6 p.m. shift Monday through Friday, and he only takes one break, for lunch at 4 p.m. He helps kids during physical therapy. He takes them out for walks. He even tucks kids in at nap time.

But you won’t ever hear him brag about his work.

Costa, a 2-year-old black Labrador retriever, has been on staff at Special Care for a little more than four weeks, and Pam Newby, the center’s executive director, said he’s been an invaluable addition.

"We really strive to provide the very best in cutting-edge treatment for our kids, and he’s really helping us do that,” Newby said. "The kids just love him. Even the babies love him.”

Special Care serves about 135 children between the ages of 6 weeks and 19 years, and helping so many can be taxing on a staff of 35. But Costa has made all jobs at the center more enjoyable.

Long process
Newby went through a 10-month process to get Costa from Canine Companions for Independence in Oceanside, Calif.

She sent in an application and then had a phone interview. Next, she had a face-to-face interview via the Internet so officials could make sure Costa would have a good home after his workday.

Following that, Newby went to Oceanside for a two-week training program in June to get acquainted with how to work with an assistance dog.

Katie Malatino, a public relations coordinator for Canine Companions for Independence, said the group spends roughly $45,000 training and preparing each assistance dog.


What can Costa do?

Costa, a 2-year-old Labrador retriever, knows 35 commands and helps with many activities at Special Care Inc. Here’s a look at what he’s able to do:

→Open and close doors.

→Turn lights on and off.

→Tuck kids in during nap time.

→Provide motivation for kids who need mobility assistance.

→Retrieve items on command, such as cans of soda or remote controls.

Examples of commands:
Tug: Can be used to command the dog to pull on a strap attached to a doorknob to open a door; or to pull off a sock, shoe, or other article of clothing; or to pull a laundry basket.

Push: Can be used to activate a push plate to open a door; or to close a door or drawer; or to press a button (on a TV, an elevator, etc.)

Get: Used in retrieval, and can be used for any item from a cell phone to car keys to credit cards; can also be combined with "give.”

Lap: The dog jumps up and places its front two legs on a person’s lap.

Visit: The dog rests its head on a person’s lap.

Step: The dog places its front two feet on the foot plate of a person’s wheelchair or on the feet themselves.

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