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“Pawtism” Puppy: Classroom Dog For Easter Seals

“Pawtism” Puppy: Autism Classroom Dog For Easter Seals of Southwest Florida

Autism is a life-long disorder for which there is no known cause, cure, or singular effective treatment. Experts agree that early diagnosis and intervention are critical in helping people with autism better their outcomes in the future. Therapy and treatments can help people with autism make significant progress, and can help them lead meaningful and productive lives.

Over the last few months, we have been excitedly developing a new, unique program with our neighbors at Easter Seals of Southwest Florida. Our collective vision has been to train a canine companion, AKA “Pawtism” dog, for Easter Seals’ classrooms. Research has shown that the presence of a dog helps autistic children be more attentive and socially engaged in the classroom. Much thought went into how we can use the therapeutic nature of dogs to offer this much needed service to the children of Easter Seals. Equally as important to us was that the puppy have a home life where he can “turn off” his working brain at the end of the day and just be a dog. Beverly Landers, Certified Assistant Occupational Therapist at Easter Seals Southwest Florida, has generously offered to be this pup’s “person” and provide him with a great life! We will be joining her in adopting a puppy from Humane Society of Sarasota County this afternoon.

Beverly is very excited about this opportunity and is ready to welcome this tiny ball of fur into the Easter Seals community. She will be tasked with caring for the puppy and being his training partner every step of the way. They will enjoy learning together, as she becomes familiar with all of the training and intricate details of a service dog’s life.

It was important to us that this “Pawtism” puppy come from a local rescue. Finding a puppy can be tough – finding the RIGHT puppy for this very important job proved to be much tougher! John Pfohler, trainer at Humane Society of Sarasota County, was instrumental in assisting us by evaluating many different pups and finding just the right one.

John and Bayside Pet Resort trainer Murisa Kippin collectively have over 35 years of animal training experience, including exotics and service animals. They already work together closely on our “Pets for Vets” program, a partnership between Humane Society of Sarasota County and Bayside Pet Resort  to find perfect canine companions who will assist military veterans in our community. Working together, Murisa and John coordinate training of both the dog and the individual, helping the pair bond and learn to work as one.

white german shepherd service dog

L to R: John Pfohler, Julie Dejnowski, Rico & his Pets For Vets program service dog Stella, Murisa Kippin

Humane Society of Sarasota County has been incredible in supporting this program! Not only did they surprise us by offering to donate the puppy for this program, but they have also generously donated a training crate, obedience training classes, and veterinary care for a year at their animal clinic! In addition, they will help us certify the “Pawtism” pup as an official therapy dog after his first birthday.

Easter Seals of Southwest Florida will be having a puppy naming contest at their campus on Monday August 7th. Their students will all get a chance to vote for their favorite puppy name, which they will be helping to care for when he is in the classroom. Easter Seals students will be a central part of the puppy’s life, helping to feed and water him, exercise him, and walk him over to Bayside for play and pampering!

This little pup will be the first “Pawtism” facility dog of its kind in the area. We are beaming with excitement as we dive into this program! Stay tuned for puppy pictures and training updates!

Learn more about Easter Seals and the amazing service they provide to our community by visiting their Services webpage at


***UPDATE: AUGUST 7, 2017***

Easter Seals students voted on the name of their new furry classmate today! The votes are in and the winner is…

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