UT students are taking dogs to local special education classes

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LAKE TWP. (WTVG) - Local college students are volunteering their time to help other students. It's an organization that works with special education classes around the area. It's called Dogs For Difference.

The volunteer program was started by a University of Toledo student.
The UT students go into 2-3 classrooms every week, and what they're doing is changing lives.

A simple game of fetch is a perfect example of the power of the program. Jessie Myers is a Life Skills Intervention Specialist who teaches at Lake Middle School, "There are so many benefits to the program. We see the gross motor benefits of the kids throwing a ball, walking with their peers and the dogs. The play time also helps with their coordination. We also see collaboration among the kids. They learn to share and take turns."

AJ Fritz loves playing with Livvie,"I play with Livvie all the time because I can throw the ball. Livvie has lots of energy. Yep, and I do too!"

AJ is a student in the Life Skills Intervention Program at Lake Middle School, "How do the dogs make you feel? Happy!"

The dogs are here every other week In addition to the play time, Jessie says the children also read to the dogs, "It's been amazing to see how much the kids have grown through working with an animal"

Aaron Witt is a junior at UT. He started the program last April. He loves seeing how the dogs are helping students, "Maybe they're a little isolated and by themselves the first week. By the next week, they're running up to us, calling for the dogs and playing with other kids."

Aaron says Emma Schiffler was a little shy at first, "Now she's the first one in line to grab a dog to walk or play fetch. The dogs recognize her now, so they know when they see Emma it's time to go for a walk and have fun."

Emma says she loves playing with a chocolate lab named Tory, "I like to throw the soccer ball to her."

Aaron says each dog has his or her own personality and role in the program, but, "Tory definitely has the greatest impact of any of our dogs or volunteers."

Aaron says when you see Tory in action, it may be hard to believe she's blind, "She's running, playing fetch and having a good time. It's great for the kids to see that she may be different but that doesn't mean she's worse."

While Dogs For Difference is helping the students, Aaron says it's also helping him, "It's made me a happier person in general because I am able to appreciate the difference I make. This program not only impacts them, it also has a big impact on all of our lives too."

About 20 students at The University of Toledo are involved with the Dogs For Difference program. There are nine different dogs and one rabbit that visit classrooms. In addition to Lake Middle School and Lake High School, the volunteers also go to Northwood and East Broadway.