ChildServe‘s 4-legged Playing Expert
At ChildServe, everything we do is centered around the spirit of a child. One of the most unique ways we help children in Iowa City tap into their curiosity and imagination is by connecting them with the fun-loving, playful energy of certified therapy dog, Tucker. Since 2021 Tucker, a 9-year-old Goldendoodle, has worked “full-time” at ChildServe where he uses his training and skills to assist with outpatient therapy appointments. In addition to his therapy dog certification, Tucker is also a Certified Emotional Support Animal and Canine Good Citizen.
Tucker’s owner and handler, ChildServe Physical Therapist Ansley DeVrieze, knew he would make a great therapy dog because of his easy-going personality, intuition and love of people.
Tucker is learning a form of augmentative and alternative communication (AAC) to assist and motivate children learning a form of AAC in speech therapy.
“Tucker is great at picking up on the emotions of the humans he is around and seeks to comfort them when he can,” Ansley said. “He is happiest when he is with people and is more motivated by being praised and petted than by treats, which is a rare quality in a dog. I knew he would make an excellent therapy dog for ChildServe and that he could make a huge difference for the children we serve who need some extra support and motivation.”
Interacting with dogs can lower heart rate and blood pressure, reduce stress, alleviate depression and anxiety and boost self-esteem. In short, no matter our age or abilities, dogs help us live great lives, and Tucker is no exception.
A Day in the Life of Tucker
Every Monday through Thursday, Tucker arrives at ChildServe 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.
Throughout the day, Tucker, along with one of his handlers, assists with up to three therapy sessions each day. Tucker works with children receiving occupational, speech or physical therapy.
In any therapy session, Tucker provides an effective reward for the children he’s working with, which greatly increases their motivation and focus. When a child needs to practice skills that are difficult for them, he provides support and comfort.
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 clock out for the day and go home to unwind. What a good boy!
Helping Drew Thrive
Already, Tucker has been a valuable addition to the ChildServe team, and he is just getting started! Whether he knows it or not, Tucker is making a big impact for kids like 6-year-old Drew.
After experiencing a stage-four bilateral brain bleed when he was born nine weeks early, Drew was diagnosed with Right Side Spastic Cerebral Palsy. His family was told that he may never walk on his own and would probably always need assistance. He began his journey at ChildServe at 6 months old to receive speech, occupational and physical therapies. Since then, Drew has worked incredibly hard to build his strength and improve his daily living skills.
“I am happy to say that today, Drew not only walks on his own but also runs, plays baseball, wrestles and is full of energy and determination,” said Drew’s mom, Courtney.
With the addition of Tucker in his therapy sessions, Drew’s lively spirit has only increased.
“My favorite thing to do with Tucker is to give him treats when he follows my commands. I like to give him treats and cuddles, and he plays with me.”
“Drew’s imagination is very active and including Tucker in his sessions only makes therapy more fun,” Courtney said. “Drew is very motivated by his interactions with Tucker. He works extra hard during therapy so he can play with Tucker at the end. I feel that the team at ChildServe (including Tucker) has helped Drew become the kid he is today.”
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.