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 processNewby 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. The dogs are then given free of charge to agencies that pass the application and interview process. All Newby was responsible for was her transportation to Oceanside and providing for Costa’s living costs and routine visits to the vet. Since arriving at Special Care, Costa has been instrumental in helping the kids, said Suzanne McQuade, a physical therapist at the center for 14 years. The main thing Costa does is provide motivation for kids to do better in their therapy. But the most impressive thing about him is how he stays calm around so many people. "The kids will sometimes pat him a little too rough or they might accidentally kick him with their foot when they’re walking because they don’t have good motor control,” McQuade said. "He stays on task and focused and disciplined no matter how unpredictable the children are in their movements.”
Getting a co-worker?Newby and McQuade said one of the first things each kid asks when they get to the center is, "Where’s Costa? Can we pet Costa?” But Newby said she notices Costa is tuckered out when she takes him home at the end of the day. Having more than 135 pairs of hands eager for attention every day can take a toll on even the most diligent of workers. Because of Costa’s impact on everyone involved with Special Care, Newby said another canine companion could be on the way. She didn’t have an estimate as to when that could happen. "I think there’s room for one more,” Newby said. "Costa helps us serve our kids better, and that was the whole goal when we decided to get him.”
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.