Meet therapy dog RECON

Patients who have been at Dosher Memorial Hospital the past few months might have seen RECON, an amiable and accomplished yellow Labrador Retriever, as he meets, greets and comforts those who are recovering from accident and injury. Working at the hospital is just one of the jobs of this service dog from the Wilmington-based paws4people foundation.

Amy Kibler and her family got Recon as a helper for her 16-year- old son, who has autism and is a student at an area high school. But RECON's training and certifications mean he's also useful when he goes to work with Kibler. "Monday through Friday, he's here with me," she said. "It's awesome. Who doesn't want to bring their dog to work?"

Kibler is an occupational therapist at Dosher and helps people with activities of daily living, from helping them learn to cook and do laundry or working buttons and snaps on clothing. RECON also assists with treatments. Someone recovering from a stroke practiced his motor skills while throwing a ball for the dog, Kibler said. A patient with a walker added another challenge by holding a leash and walking RECON.

"Sometimes therapy is painful," she said. "And he helps with that, too." While patients are receiving treatment, RECON can offer comfort and support. Kibler also takes the dog to visit patients in other departments. "We will go visit post-op patients. RECON can get on their beds, if they'd like," she said. "There's a command for cuddle, so he can do that." Kibler said that many patients miss their own pets during hospital stays, and RECON's presence is usually a welcome one. "He can help brighten their day. Patients buy him gifts and they love to see him."

When he's at home, RECON's calming presence helps her son. "We can take RECON with him to high-stress places," she said. The dog is also certified in seizure response and is helpful in their aftermath. Another of RECON's skills is sensory tactile pressure.

"RECON will lie on his legs, and that is very soothing for our son," Kibler said. RECON also watches over their son at night. The Kibler family has three other dogs, so RECON gets to take off his work clothes, or service vest, and relax and enjoy more traditional canine pastimes of running in the backyard and chasing stuff.

RECON was placed with the Kiblers through the paws4people foundation, which raises, trains, and places assistance dogs with children, veterans, military dependents, and civilians living with disabilities. The organization provides certification, insurance, and support for the client-dog teams for the duration of their careers. RECON went through paws4people's puppy development socialization training before going to the West Virginia prison system obedience training through prison training program, paws4prisons. He then did all his public access training at the University of North Carolina-Wilmington through paws4people's UNCW Dog Training Program.

Now, at two-years- old, he is happy with his new jobs and family. Kibler said her family raised $10,000 for the organization. "Someone before us did the same thing, to help with RECON's training."

One thing is certain, RECON appreciates his work. "When I leave for work in the morning, he blocks the door and won't let me leave unless I take him with me," she said.

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