Tampa school pairs students with special needs with shelters dog training to be service animals

Kids and Canines program at Dorothy Thomas School

TAMPA, Fla. -- Nick and Patriot are both students at Tampa’s Dorothy Thomas School.

Nick is there for behavioral issues, part of a program that caters to children with special needs.

Patriot, a fluffy golden retriever, is there for the Kids and Canines program in which two-legged students like Nick help train four-legged ones for a future as a service dog.

Many of the dogs are from animal shelters. If all goes well, the furry friends will be ready to assist military veterans with PTSD or a child with autism by the end of the school year.

“We have two rules here that everyone has to follow,” says Kids and Canines executive director Kelly Hodges. “You have to be calm and quiet. And you have to be kind.”

The students, many of whom had to leave other schools for being disruptive, learn compassion and empathy as well as how to groom and train the dogs, 

The non-profit Kids and Canines operates in a series of buildings right on campus.

“I’ve had kids who say I hate school. I hate you." says Hodges. "But they love their dogs."

Nick is a senior at Dorothy Thomas School. He wants to go into the culinary industry after he graduates. But his love for Patriot and the other dogs is so great, he wants to continue volunteering at Kids and Canines.

The Kids and Canines program is always in need of foster families for the dogs while they are in training.

To find out more about Kids and Canines, visit kidsandcanines.org.

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