Nikos and Mike

Our lovely boy, Nikos talks about his experience and how he felt the day he met with the Labrador puppy, Mike.

Τhe day I met Mike (written by Nikos Manessis)

A beautiful Monday while I was coming back to the rehabilitation center from my walk with my friend Maria, I met with Mike, the dog which is in training in order to become Apasia's service dog. More specifically his training will be based on visible and invisible disabilities and he will be able to assist Aspasia if she has seizure, blood sugar problems or any other symptom, but will also protect her and keep her calm.

I felt so happy meeting him because I love dogs and he is very cute. His color was beige, his ears were small, his eyes were round and brown and his tongue was long. He was licking me, he was wagging his tail and he tried to bite the brake of my wheelchair, but I did not mind at all because he was trying to play and he was adorable. He reminded me of Gilda, my dog who unfortunately died three years ago. I was petting him and he was trying to jump on me.

After a while he left with his trainer, but before that we took photos. I was very happy when I met Mike and I wish he can help Aspasia and give her a lot of love.

Maya and Ned

Hi Elena,

Maya is a 12 year old child adopted from the US foster care system in Los Angeles, CA. Her mom adopted 2 children who are not biologically related but both were exposed to alcohol as developing fetuses. Their birth mom’s suffer from drug addictions and most who face this difficulty also drink alcohol. Alcohol is a poison to the developing fetus because it crosses the placenta and the baby becomes more intoxicated than the mother because their liver is not developed well enough to filter it from their tiny body. Most of the damage happens to their brain.

Maya was diagnosed with fetal alcohol syndrome at age 8. Maya has the classic facial features of FAS and she also has an intellectual disability (mental retardation). Some of the ways FAS has affected Maya:
-She has significant anxiety and is afraid to be alone in her own bedroom and is unable to go into a bathroom alone
-Maya can not sleep at all without medication, he body and mind are unable to rest
-Maya needs to attend school in a special education classroom
-Maya will never be able to live independently
-She is at high risk of sexual assault because she looks like a typical child and can talk like a typical child
-Her expressive language skills are average however her receptive language (what she is able to understand is far below average)
-Having a significantly disabled child that appears typical causes others to have expectations of Maya that are impossible for her to achieve
-Although Maya does not run off she is too anxious to leave my sight, she has many issues with safety awareness. She never remembers to look both ways before crossing the street, she does not pay attention to moving cars in a parking lot, she becomes easily distracted and misses safety queues in her environment such as moving too far into the lane of traffic, paying attention to balls being thrown near her, not holding the railing when walking up or down steps, not watching where her fingers are when slamming a car door shut,
-Maya is unable to learn from mistakes. At age 5 she tried to cut a raw potatoe and cut her hand, just days later despite the knives being locked up she attempted to use a butter knife to cut another potatoe - she did not make the connection
-She does not feel hot and cold as others do, she wears the wrong clothing for the weather and I have to lock up her off-season clothes (it is a good thing we don’t live in Chicago she is not affected enough by cold), she tries to wear summer clothes when she should be wearing a sweatshirt or she will try to wear winter boots in 90 degree temperatures
-Maya overheats extremely easily in mildly warm weather, I have to watch her constantly and make her drink and seek shade from just short exposure to the sun
-Although Maya is 12 developmentally she is about 6, this causes difficulty in social situations

Since Ned has come home:
-Maya takes herself to the bathroom both at home, school and in public places because Ned goes with her. He is trained to lie down in the stall with her and his company has given her independence where she used to refuse to go which causes medical issues and abject fear. Ned is not afraid of toilet flushes or loud hand dryers. Hit patiently sits in the bathroom while Maya showers or bathes. Before she would not close the door and I had to be in view of her.
-Maya will stay in her own room at night and will even play in her room alone for short stints as long as Ned is with her. She includes him in her play and he is the best listener to her imaginary tales. Most of the time Ned follows Maya without the need of a command. he loves his girl.
-If Maya is playing with her hair to the point of it breaking it or chewing on her nails, Ned will nuzzle her hands away - behavior disruption
-Most of the time when Maya goes into meltdown mode she does not want Ned near her until recently. She is beginning to recognize when she is losing control and has now asked for him twice and both times just sitting with him (no commands just near her) has stopped the meltdowns. She is beginning to understand how he can help her which means she helps herself which is HUGE. This is an emerging skill because they have become more in tune with each other after just 6 months.
-Ned goes to school with Maya and her 1:1 aid has been trained to handle him. When we returned from training after winter break her teacher when on medical leave for the rest of the year. In the past this would have caused Maya terrible difficulty with eloping and anxiety. From return to the end of school Maya had just 1 behavioral difficulty at school. This is such a huge difference. She took the multiple substitute teachers in stride.
-Ned makes going to the doctor easier and her pediatrician and mental health physicians are amazed at the difference in Maya since Ned arrived.
-Ned is very very big (now 85 lbs) and sometimes his size can be overwhelming however he is able to handle Maya at her worst because he is not petite and delicate. His size works for her.
-Going in public with Ned is an adventure. He is a magnet for attention and gives us many opportunities to teach the public about service dogs and not to pet. We also have opportunities for maya to be social thanks to Ned when it safe and appropriate.
— Rosemary Shulman, Maya's mother

First trial speech therapy session with the participation of certified service dog; Nina

Speech therapist, doctor Papapouliou Dionysia held her first speech therapy session with the participation of dog trainer Elena Palagka and the certified service dog Nina; a member of the non profit organization "Nina Service Dogs". She stated that it was a unique experience for her and for young Mihalis, who has pervasive developmental disorder not otherwise specified (PDD-NOS), which is one of the three autism spectrum. As she told us, her love for the dogs and the animals in general was the reason for her to try a different and innovative session with participation of a well trained dog. The session took place on October 14th, 2015 in the premises of association 'Peprato", which is the biggest in Greece for people with mobility problems.

Mihalis; the protagonist of the session, lived a unique experience with Nina's help and always with the support of dog trainer Elena Palagka. Mihalis is one of the smarter kids in his class (5th grade),  but has a deficit in communication and socialization skills. The speech therapist expressed her satisfaction for the outcome of the session, feeling satisfied and excited with Mihali's performance and responses.

From the first minutes of their session Mihalis was enchanted by Nina. He wanted to play with her, he enjoyed feeding and petting her. As the session developed the two new friends even shared some moments of playing the piano together. Finally and with the supervision of dog trainer Elena, Mihalis had the chance to give orders to Nina and see her obey and execute them successfully. Mihalis drew something in order to express his feelings about the session and about Nina. His drawings depict feelings such as: love, joy, enthusiasm and happiness.

In the end of the session Mihalis drew one more thing, which he dedicated to Nina, in order to express to her how much he loves her. The youngster and service dog Nina bonded so well that when Mihalis was picked by his parents, Nina was running all over the premises in order to look for him.

The speech therapist declared that it was a unique session with many different feelings for her and all her expectations had not only been met, but also exceeded.

She thanked Elena Palagka for her offer and couldn't get away from the sweet service dog Nina. All parties mutually agreed to meet again soon for another session.