Pets making a difference for residents of all ages

Fifth grade student Logan Allington, who is autistic, bonds with his service dog, Belle.

By Charlie Reed

For the News-Gazette

Fifth-grader Logan Allington and his service dog, Belle, are inseparable – even during the school day.

The St. Cloud Elementary student is autistic and since bringing Belle to school this year, not only have his grades soared, but his ability to communicate with peers and adults has improved markedly. What’s more, other autistic kids in Logan’s class have also benefited from Belle’s presence in the classroom.

Autism, or autism spectrum disorder, refers to a range of conditions characterized by challenges with social skills, repetitive behaviors, speech and nonverbal communication. It’s thought to be

Fifth grade student Logan Allington, who is autistic, bonds with his service dog, Belle.

caused by different combinations of genetic and environmental influences.

“Seeing the difference in the students’ bond with a dog and the reassurance and connection with Belle has helped many of my students communicate, not to mention Logan. He is able to talk to adults and communicate with strangers about Belle. Logan has overcome his fears of strangers and has shown perseverance and patience for others this school year,” said Crystal Nori-Gross, who teaches Logan’s class for autistic students.

With Belle serving as a teacher’s aide of sorts, Nori-Gross said the class has learned how to work as a team and how to express empathy and compassion for others. Disruptive behaviors and attendance also have improved.

Other teachers and students also love the sweet-natured Belle, who greets everyone around with a smile and wagging tail. Belle’s even the subject of a book written by St. Cloud Elementary students that will soon be available in the school’s library. The pooch came from the Pawsitive Action Foundation, a St. Cloud organization that trains service dogs for military veterans, first responders and those with autism and other disabilities. The dogs are named for U.S. veterans.

When Logan moves on to Neptune Middle School next year, so will Belle. Her presence at the elementary school has been so successful that the school district and Pawsitive Action are teaming up to bring service dogs to three more schools next year – at no cost to the district. 
The new dogs will go to the Exceptional Education classrooms at Narcoossee Elementary, St. Cloud Middle and back to Nori-Gross’s class at St. Cloud Elementary.

“I have seen an amazing transformation in my classroom this year,” she said. “Belle was definitely was part of this and I look forward to moving forward in helping other students with disability participate in therapy and service dogs in our community.”

For more information, visit www.pawsitive

Pets helping seniors

Special needs kids aren’t the only ones who benefit from pets, even if they’re not necessarily therapy dogs.

The Osceola Council on Aging is providing low-income seniors in the Meals on Wheels program with pet food. All of the food is donated by residents and local businesses. But like the dwindling shelves at the council’s food pantry, its pet food supplies are running low. 
The Pets Meals on Wheels program was established to honor volunteer Jimmy Scarborough, who first began delivering pet food to the seniors on his routes years ago. The program has grown over the years and now serves 50 low-income seniors whose pets are their only companions.

“They make them laugh and believe again. They give the seniors a purpose. Donations of pet food, cat litter or any other pet items are always needed and welcome,” said Wilda Belisle, the nutrition director at the Council on Aging.

Kissimmee Valley Feed & Ranch Supply in St. Cloud is helping raise funds and collecting donations for the seniors.

The store’s first fundraiser is Saturday from 9 a.m. to 7 p.m. at its new second location at 215 13th St., St. Cloud.

To learn more about donating pet food and supplies, call Wilda Belisle at 407-847-2144.