Revelstoke high school students often come home with dog hair on their pants, remnants from the dog love they received at school that day from the facility dog Brushy.
Brushy is a yellow lab, trained by Pacific Assistance Dogs Society (PADS) and placed with Dana Reaume to work in partnership with her at Revelstoke Secondary School.
“You can see him interact with these kids, laying on them, licking their faces, it’s not just him being a silly dog, it’s really purposeful,” Reaume said.
She applied to have Brushy placed with her four years ago. There was an interview process, and she participated in handler training, waiting for about nine months before she got the call–“We think we have a dog for you.”
“There is so much research,” Reaume said. “The research states that having something alive in an institution, it lowers heart rate, lowers blood pressure, creates serotonin in the brain which stimulates relaxation and happiness.”
PADS breeds and raises service, assistance and hearing dogs. Facility dogs are placed with professionals in communities to do very specific jobs. In some cases they work with Victims Services, in others they work with counsellors.
“Brushy does a really great job at just bringing a calm presence and a connection to kids that are unconnected,” Reaume said. “He seems to have this magic way of wandering through the school and finding the kids that needs him, or the staff member sometimes too.”
Brushy was raised by what PADS calls “puppy raisers” and given extensive training. He has travelled across the country and to see different experts and Reaume estimates that PADS invested between $30,000 and $50,000 in him.
“These dogs are bred and university trained for exactly the job that they are going to do,” she said.
PADS is recognized accredited through Assistance Dogs International, which sets standards for behaviour and training in assistance dogs that is “unparalleled” Reaume said.
“You can buy a vest and a certificate online and bring your dog anywhere, and that’s not real and it does a huge detriment to those organizations that are doing this work,” Reaume said.
Brushy has a 40-50 command vocabulary. As well as general politeness and obedience, he puts his head on a knee as a calming presence or leans into you in what Reaume calls “heavy dog”.
“Just that pressure and that presence is such a grounding feeling and a lot of my students who have experienced trauma, who experience trauma daily, really utilize that service that he provides to ground, to be present in the day,” Reaume said.
But it isn’t just the calming puppy cuddles that make Brushy so valuable. Working with Brushy also teaches kids to be assertive.
“Just being a dog he won’t respond to somebody who is super passive and he will run if somebody is super aggressive, so there is so much learning that happens with my students,” Reaume said.
Reaume’s students have told her that “He’s good for anxiety and for when I get angry. He takes care of us.” Another student told her that “He is one of the only reasons I come to school.”
“People ask me ‘what does he do?’ and I’m like ‘magic’,” Reaume explained. “‘Come and watch, come and see, just watch him for a day, watch where he goes, watch how he interacts with kids, watch the kids put their phones away and get down on the ground’.”
Every day the pair have a series of commands they go through, like a workout, and they do it in a variety of places, such as the back of Reaume’s truck, in the grocery store or outside in the rain.
“He doesn’t go up and just randomly sniff strangers, he is not allowed to do that,” Reaume said. “I have to command him to interact with people when we are out in public.”
PADS also continually checks in and re-certifies Brushy every few years. Reaume said they are an amazing resource and answer every question she has in a heart beat.
And at the end of the day the cape comes off and Brushy gets to just be a dog, swimming, zoomies, bike rides, blanket snuggles and all.