At Highland Canine Connect, we pride ourselves on making a difference through the power of canine connections. We achieve this in a number of ways – whether it is through our service dog donation program which provides fully-trained service dogs to families in need, or our police dog donation program which helps to keep communities safe.
In addition to these flagship programs, we also undertake a number of community activities throughout the year which help us to utilize the power of dogs in other ways. Our volunteers often take time to bring our service dog candidates to public places and other events. This provides valuable socialization for the dogs, whilst helping members of the community to see what an incredible difference dogs can make to the lives of many individuals.
Undoubtedly, some of our most valuable work takes place in settings which benefit children. It has been demonstrated that interaction with dogs can have an overwhelmingly positive effect on children. For example, kids who are in the presence of dogs have lower cortisol levels (reducing stress) and increased levels of serotonin and dopamine (improving mood and bringing a sense of calm).
For this article, we spoke to teachers and supervisors who have worked alongside Highland Canine Connect to truly understand the benefits of these programs for the children involved.
School Reading Program
One of our most important community initiatives is our School Reading Program. As part of this program, our volunteers bring service dogs in training to an educational establishment and sit with the children whilst they read aloud from a book.
This activity has been shown to reduce children’s stress, in addition to improving their reading – they gain confidence from the patient, tranquil demeanor of the dog laying by their side.
One successful example has been the Book Buddies program at Langtree Charter Academy, located in Mooresville, NC. Ms. Abbott, a teacher at the school, explains the benefits for the children who are part of the program:
“The ‘Book Buddies’ program at Langtree Charter Academy is a collaborative project between the school and Highland Canine Connect, a nonprofit program that trains service dogs.
Our school is fortunate to participate in the partnership, as our students who are a part of the exceptional children’s program enhance their reading skills alongside service dogs in training.
The students’ excitement and joy overshadow any difficulties that life may present, as they willingly share stories with their canine friends. Benefits included are increased reading skills for the students, and the dog in training receives invaluable encounters with the students.”
The program also allows our volunteers to explain the important role a service dog will play for families. These exceptional service dogs are trained to perform tasks that make a world of difference for their eventual handler. Educating the children in the program on the vital work a service dog can perform helps to broaden their knowledge of how dogs can be used in everyday life.
Rainbow Kidz Program
The Rainbow Kidz program helps children and families to process illness, trauma and grief through an amazing level of care and support. Offering a range of services including bereavement support, palliative care and hospice care, Rainbow Kidz provides group activities and one-on-one help for children trying to process some of the most difficult situations imaginable. We have been proud to partner with Rainbow Kidz over a number of years – their work is incredibly valuable.
We have been privileged to support fundraisers and other events over the years to further the mission of Rainbow Kidz. This past summer, we were honored to help out with the annual Camp Rainbow event, which offers children a safe place to express their feelings and process their grief, all whilst taking part in fun group activities such as dance, karate, yoga and crafts. Another part of the camp is pet and equine therapy.
As Leigh Ann Darty, Rainbow Kidz Director, explains, the visibility and interaction with the dogs has been comforting to the children who are part of the program.
“Our relationship with Highland Canine has been such a gift to the Rainbow Kidz program. It is amazing to see how our grieving children respond to the dogs – and how the dogs are such a safe and comforting presence to them.
Both Highland’s staff and the service animals have brought an added layer of therapeutic comfort to the children we serve.”
We look forward to continuing to work with Rainbow Kidz in the years to come and continue to assist in their extremely valuable work.
Want to volunteer with Highland Canine Connect?
If you are interested in helping Highland Canine Connect to deliver these community programs, there are a couple of ways you can do so.
Firstly, we are always keen to work with enthusiastic, compassionate and dedicated volunteers who are able to offer their time to participate in these programs. Our community programs simply couldn’t take place without our volunteers! Taking part is a very rewarding experience, and by donating your time, we are able to expand these programs and offer them to a greater number of educational establishments, therefore benefiting even more children.
We understand that time is often at a premium, but there is no set obligation – you can donate as much time as you are comfortable with. We usually send out emails to our volunteer list for upcoming events, and they let us know which they will be able to help out with.
Even if you have little experience with dogs, you will receive guidance and training from our team on how to handle them. We also teach you how to identify when children or adults are clearly nervous around dogs, and techniques to help deal with these situations.
Alternatively, we understand that many people lead busy lifestyles, and – for example – may be unavailable during school hours to take part in our School Reading Program. However, you can still help! Training a service dog and bringing them out in public does incur financial costs (i.e. training equipment, treats, gas costs, car maintenance). Anything you are able to contribute financially is greatly appreciated and enables us to continue providing these programs.
How can my school join the Reading Program?
If you are a teacher, principal or are involved in another capacity with your local school, and think our School Reading Program would benefit your students, we would love to hear from you!