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

BRIAN KIMBALL Published: July 26, 2009
Th
e 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.”


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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