Meet the Dogs of ChildServe
Tucker the 9-year-old Goldendoodle works at ChildServe in Iowa City as a Therapy Animal alongside handlers, Medical Social Worker, Amber Herring and Physical Therapist, Ansley DeVrieze, Tucker’s owner. In addition to his therapy dog certification, Tucker is also a Certified Emotional Support Animal and Canine Good Citizen. He loves people and is always excited to come to work each day and interact with all of his friends. Tucker stays busy putting smiles on the faces of every child and team member he works with.
Pfeffer the 8-year-old Standard Schnauzer is an agility dog who volunteers with his owner, Vicki, and his friend Freddie in ChildServe’s dog agility social groups lead by Occupational Therapist, Amanda Willems. He has been a ChildServe volunteer for about 5 years and has also successfully participated in competitions for Conformation, Rally and Obedience. Pfeffer is a Certified Trick Dog, Canine Good Citizen and Therapy Dog. Pfeffer’s patience and calm demeanor provide the children he serves with the confidence they need to be successful.
Caribou the Chocolate Lab is ChildServe’s facility dog who spends most of her time on the inpatient units in Johnston. She is certified from Canine Assistants in Atlanta, GA, and works alongside Inpatient Activity Team Lead, Lisa Fox and Recreation and Aquatics Nurse, Amy Starbuck. Caribou’s calming presence is a great comfort for the children and team members she works with and her playful side provides lots of smiles.
Freddie the 8-year-old Yorkshire Terrier is also an agility dog who volunteers alongside his owner, Mary, and Pfeffer in the social groups. While Freddie has never been able to compete in agility due to his fear of moving platforms, he loves to run and jump through agility courses (without the teeter-totter) for fun. He has earned his AKC Companion Dog (CD) title, his Rally Excellent title, and is working toward his Companion Dog Excellent (CDX) title. Freddie’s big personality and love for people bring energy and encouragement to the children he serves.
A Day in the Life
Now that you’ve met the dogs of ChildServe, it’s time to learn more about what they do each day while they work.
Caribou works a full-time job at ChildServe punching in at 8 a.m. for five days each week. Most of her time is spent on ChildServe’s long-term care and inpatient rehabilitation units where she supports the children and young adults receiving care. Each morning, you can find Caribou assisting child life, recreational, occupational and physical therapists as they provide treatment to kids and young adults.
Caribou is a constant companion for her ChildServe team members and the children and young adults in ChildServe’s Long-term Care units. One of her favorite things to do is go for walks around the units and the Healing Garden. She also provides comfort and motivation for the children and teens in our Pediatric Rehabilitation unit. Often, Caribou gets to play her favorite game – fetch – as a fun way to motivate kids to practice the motions involved in grabbing, squeaking, throwing or kicking.
Every Monday through Thursday, Tucker arrives at ChildServe in Iowa City by 8 a.m. ready to work! He greets his co-workers and friends with a tail wag from behind the Welcome Center desk as they arrive each morning. Tucker, along with one of his handlers, assists with up to three therapy sessions each day.
Everyone needs breaks and Caribou is no exception. When she needs some time to step away from her duties, you can find her taking a nap under a desk, looking for treats and snuggling with a child or team member.
In the afternoon, Caribou continues to provide support to the people around her. Caribou’s special talent is knowing when someone needs her most and being there for them. When a child has to undergo a form of care they find scary, such as getting their blood drawn, Caribou provides comfort and distraction. When Caribou hears someone crying, she goes towards the sound until she finds the person who needs her.
Whether it’s a child or a team member, Caribou knows when someone is having a hard day and needs some extra love. Caribou’s favorite part of her day is the attention and love she gets from all of the people at ChildServe and snuggling in bed with the kids, teens and young adults she serves. Once 4 p.m. arrives, Caribou is off the clock and ready to go home and unwind.
Tucker works with children receiving occupational, speech or physical therapy.
In occupational therapy, Tucker may provide support for a child with sensory needs by simply allowing them to pet him and feel his fluffy fur. A therapist may include him in an exercise for a child who needs to practice reaching, by positioning him in a spot the child needs to reach to pet him.
In physical therapy, Tucker may support a child working on their balance by allowing them to pet him while they maintain their position. Tucker may provide motivation to a child working on coordination and strength, by fetching a ball the child throws.
To help with speech therapy, Tucker may provide motivation by giving the child something exciting to talk about. A child might practice certain sounds or alternative forms of communication by giving Tucker commands he knows and celebrating with him when they both achieve their goals.
Tucker can even support children during feeding therapy without trying to steal the food from their plates.
By 6 p.m. it’s time for Tucker to call it a day and go home for some rest.
After ChildServe’s full-time, four-legged team members have packed up for the day, there are a couple of more dogs with work to do! Two nights each week, Freddie and Pfeffer team up alongside their handlers to volunteer in ChildServe’s dog agility social group.
“Our dog agility groups are one of many social group opportunities here at ChildServe,” said Occupational Therapist, Amanda Willems. “During group, we utilize social thinking programs to learn and practice a variety of skills in a non-judgmental setting. In coordination with our volunteers, the children in our dog groups are able to practice giving commands, making eye contact, engaging in play skills, implementing self-regulation strategies and more. In learning these social thinking skills, they participate in group discussions, problem-solving and games with peers while learning to run the dogs through an agility obstacle course with the help of our dog handler volunteers.”
When Freddie hears his mom ask, “Do you want to go see the kids?” he knows he’s going to have a fun evening. Going to ChildServe means Freddie gets to visit people of all ages, show off his agility skills and get some treats! Freddie loves spending time with his friend Pfeffer and always looks forward to seeing Customer Service Coordinator, Shirley Anderson at the Welcome Center! Freddie’s enthusiasm and friendly personality encourage the kids he works with to be brave, follow directions and celebrate their accomplishments.
Pfeffer’s favorite things about volunteering at ChildServe are getting pets from the kids, running the agility course with the obstacles the children have chosen and visiting Shirley at the front desk for some pets and treats. Pfeffer’s calmness and patience help the kids he works with to take their time, try again and have fun.
Whether they know it or not, each ChildServe dog is making a huge impact!
“Caribou allows kids who live at ChildServe to learn what it’s like to have a dog. They help take her outside, she snuggles with them, they take her on walks and they play with her. Caribou is not only fun but she brings a calming presence everywhere she goes which helps our kids live a great life.” – Lisa
“I think that Tucker’s enthusiasm and energy help the kids he serves live great lives! He is able to provide support in a way that humans just can’t. He is comforting and sweet and seems to bring smiles to all of the kids’ faces.” – Ansley
“I love seeing the teamwork and communication skills kids develop by setting up the agility courses together and the way they learn to put others first when deciding on how to take turns. I see their confidence grow as they learn how to be good handlers by using their voices, eye contact, hand signals and body language to get the dogs through the course. They learn to be problem solvers when there’s a mistake — human or canine. They learn to take care of the needs of the dogs through safety, praise, kindness and providing them with water after the dogs work hard for them.” – Mary
“I’ve observed children who were fearful of dogs when class starts and end up running the dogs with confidence by the end of the session. I’ve seen children who didn’t want to join in, be drawn in by the quiet actions of a dog waiting by their side until they were ready to participate. I’ve witnessed children get frustrated when the dog didn’t understand their command and become delighted with their successes after working through their frustration with patience and perseverance. Best of all, I’ve seen the children have a good time petting, playing, running, caring for and totally enjoying the companionship of a dog!” – Vicki
“In using dogs as a modality, I’ve seen a change in so many kids! Therapy can be challenging because kids are working on the things that are most difficult for them. The dogs and their handlers are so motivating and patient. Working with them provides the kids with the opportunity to make mistakes without rejection or judgment. It is so fun to see kids grow throughout our time together into confident junior dog handlers!” – Amanda
ChildServe improves the health and well-being of 5,200 children each year through specialized clinical, home, and community-based programs and services. We serve children with developmental delays, disabilities, injuries, and other special healthcare needs.