A few years ago, Tom Gilardi, Mercy Home’s Vice President of Youth Programs, had a eureka moment about the positive impact of animals after watching some of our young people interact with a coworker’s dog. For example, one kid who had been acting out spent an hour with the dog and suddenly was back on task and in a better mood.
“Here we had concrete evidence of the positive effects that dogs have on our kids,” Tom says. “So many people have good memories of their own pets. It was always kind of obvious that pets are special, good for kids, and good for relationships. Now science has finally caught up with those concepts.”
Today, Tom is Pongo’s certified facilitator. He is responsible for housing, feeding, and caring for the dog, as well as making sure Pongo maintains his knowledge of commands.
“I’m technically the handler, so Pongo lives in my apartment,” Tom says. “I bring him to work with me every day. The idea is for me to hold office hours where we do anywhere from 10 to 20 hours a week of interaction with the kids.”
Pongo comes to us courtesy of Canine Companions for Independence, a nonprofit organization that has bred, raised, and expertly trained assistance dogs since 1975. Their dogs are trained in over 40 commands designed to assist people with disabilities or to motivate and inspire clients with special needs. Canine Companions depends on the support of donors and volunteers to match assistance dogs like Pongo free of charge.