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‘Pawsitive’ support for kids who struggle with learning

For close to a year, 11-year-old Amber was unable to go to school; she could not even walk through the school gates. Everything Amber’s mum, Peta, and her teachers tried to engage her in her learning failed until Peta heard about an innovative education therapy dog program that works with children to manage their emotions and behaviour, improve their confidence and reconnect them with their education.

Amber has an autism diagnosis and lives with a sensory processing disorder which means that a typical school environment caused her sensory overload and triggered severe anxiety. After a short time working with MacKillop Family Services’ Paw Pals program, Amber was able to go back into the classroom when she was accompanied by one of the therapy dogs.

MacKillop’s Paw Pals program has been operating for four years and has had such a positive impact on the lives of the children and young people it works with, that demand for assistance from therapy dogs far exceeds the capacity of the program.

MacKillop is running Paws4Kids today, Thursday 28 April, a campaign which will see every dollar donated automatically tripled thanks to generous supporters like PETstock Assist, PETstock’s charity foundation, and other matching partners. The goal is to raise $330,000, which will allow MacKillop to continue their Paw Pals program and expand it to Ballarat.

“Paw Pals has been a complete lifeline for Amber,” Peta says. “The magic happens because the facilitators and therapy dogs accompany Amber into the classroom. She is supported in the moment to manage the things that are the most difficult for her – that’s what makes such a difference. Amber feels supported by her safety plan to help her remain calm and regulate her emotions while the Paw Pals facilitators engage her in learning activities involving the therapy dog.

“Amber is a happy child now and this is the first program that has truly engaged her,” added Peta.

Coordinator of the Paw Pals program, Sarah Castle, has seen first-hand how Paw Pals has transformed the lives of kids who were previously disengaged with education.

“The program is reaching students in a way that teachers, on their own, cannot. It’s presenting a solution to the challenge of engaging kids who are struggling to learn in school, something that we’re seeing more and more, particularly as schools have transitioned from home-learning back into the classroom,” Sarah said.

Sarah adds: “We know that Paw Pals works and there are so many children who need the program, but we are unable to meet the demand. Funds raised through the Paws4Kids campaign will allow us to reach more of the young people who need this support to return to learning.”

Major partner, PETstock Assist, is putting its support behind the Paws4Kids Matched Giving Day and is calling on the community to donate to Paws4Kids on Thursday 28 April.

PETstock Assist’s Charity and Events Lead, Jessica Curtis, says that the charity organisation is proud to be supporting Paws4Kids once again to help even more vulnerable children connect with education and succeed at school through the use of therapy dogs.

“We’re encouraging all community members to make a donation on the Paws4Kids Matched Giving Day so that Paw Pals can extend its services to PETstock Assist’s hometown of Ballarat and continue its life-changing work supporting disadvantaged children.”