Trena & Buffy

As featured in the 4 Paws for Ability 2018 Annual Report

“It was a dream to have an animal, specifically a dog, in the classroom. There are students who really need a reason to come to school, and I knew a 4 Paws for Ability Autism Assistance Dog would be the perfect addition, a non-judgmental and calming presence for students who have many struggles. Our beautiful girl, Buffy, became a reality in 2018, and the effect she has had on not only our students in class, but our school, is remarkable. I remember when I spoke to 4 Paws during the interview process. I was so nervous. I knew this would help; I wasn’t 100% certain of all manner of help. I knew this could help with meltdowns, but I never dreamed we would go from several meltdowns a week (sometimes more than one in a day) to one meltdown in a school year! It’s hard to say exactly why. It could be Buffy’s intuitive nature; she’ll approach kids at times without being called as if she knows they are struggling. It could be that she is always happy to see the students; she greets them with enthusiasm daily. It could be that people are always willing to talk and interact with the students because she’s with them. Or, it could be the reassurance that she’s there, every single day, and most of the summer in fact. Buffy has been one of the best tools I have ever had as a teacher. The business teacher helped us make a video to introduce Buffy to the student body and teach how to interact with her and the students. It was so well received, and the students are very respectful. They follow the rules and know that she is accessible if they ask our students (not me) to pet her. Buffy loves school, and she loves work. Our students take her to visit with AP students and other students before big tests and “share the love.” This now makes our students visible and approachable in a new way. high school can be a tough place, and it’s hard to make your way when you are “differently abled” but thanks to “Buffy the Autism Slayer” (our name for her), life is good for years to come at Milford High School.

My biggest advice to someone considering a facility dog for a class of students with autism or other multiple disabilities is to utilize ALL tools available to you as an educator. The dog has enhanced our toolbox in a big way, but we are always looking forward to when the students will not have Buffy. It’s critical for them to learn to regulate to the best of their ability with tools they have on their person or have learned.

So many thanks to the professionals and fellow dreamers at 4 Paws!” -Trena Panko