By HOLLY KELSEY-HENRY, FREELANCER
Ask Rebekah Hintzman who’s leading the way for her new nonprofit, Pawsitism, and she’ll tell you that Isa the Goldendoodle and Finne the English Golden Retriever are “two smart puppies paving the way for an amazing organization.”
Located at 1229 Erie Avenue in Sheboygan, Wis., Pawsitism trains service dogs to become anchors and best friends to children with autism. After they complete the training, the dogs are placed, free of charge, with a family in need.
For families facing the challenges of autism, pets can play a significant role in their social lives. Research has found that dogs can act as a stimulus for social interaction. In fact, a University of Missouri study recently found that children with autism have much stronger social interaction skills when they live with any kind of pets at home for a prolonged period of time.
The dogs are trained to perform deep pressure therapy when a child becomes upset or panics by applying pressure to help calm them. They also learn deep gaze therapy where they look at the child directly to help bring their stress level down. Isa and Finne are hard at work perfecting their service skills in an 18-month-long training program. They will also be trained in search and rescue, in case a child becomes lost. Both are confident swimmers who can keep children safe in the water.
“The dogs also learn tether/anchor techniques where the child is actually tethered to the dog, and if the child wants to bolt, the dog anchors and freezes to not allow the child to move away,” Hintzman explains. “The dogs can also go down slides to make playgrounds more fun for the child and encourage them to engage with other children.”
The organization was founded in 2018 when Hintzman made the decision to follow her dream and create a non-profit to train service dogs for families facing the many challenges of autism.
“I found some people who were passionate about disabilities and helping the community, and a year later in January 2019, I, Tamara Pool and Deb Trcka formed a board, and it all officially started. Katie Shaw recently joined and has been helping with the organization as well,” she says.
The goal, according to Hintzman, is for the dogs to become the children’s best friend, anchor and safety net. The canines provide companionship, giving the child confidence that they are not alone. The dogs can also help them stay present and focused.
“For children who are not verbal, the dog is their voice,” she notes.
Pawsitism is funded through local donations, but the organization is also pursuing grants, sponsors and donors to help it grow. It is 100 percent volunteer-run.
“We are always looking for people who are interested in becoming puppy raisers to care for the dogs for 18 months while they train for their roles,” Hintzman says. “We also have puppy sitter opportunities along with service dog training opportunities.”
It takes a village to care for, feed and train the dogs. Area veterinarians, groomers, food suppliers and many other businesses support the organization with free care and nutrition for the dogs. Meanwhile, future goals include outings on planes, trains and automobiles for the pups.
“We’re planning trips to Chicago on the train and want to practice flying to New York. We need to find an airline to practice on,” Hintzman says.
For more information,
visit Pawsitism Inc. on Facebook.