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Kids and service dogs learn together at Segerstrom’s music and dance school

A partnership between a program at the Segerstrom Center for the Arts in Costa Mesa and Canine Companions is allowing a few furry friends and some tykes to each lend a helping hand.

Or paw.

After the opening of Segerstrom’s School of Dance and Music for Children with Disabilities in the spring, pups in training with Canine Companions began to come in once per session to greet the students at the beginning of class and see them off once class ends.

“It’s a neat addition to the training that [the puppies] might not get otherwise,” said Susan Marie Kendall, director of community engagement at Segerstrom. “The kids get to see them be calm, which helps with both socializing the kids and relaxing others.”

Canine Companions, a national nonprofit, trains service dogs to assist those with physical disabilities, hearings dogs for the deaf and hard of hearing, facility dogs for clients in different settings, and skilled companions for those with physical, cognitive and developmental disabilities.

Children arriving to the school’s final summer session class Aug. 14 were greeted by Pine, a golden retriever and Labrador mix, brought in by Canine Companion puppy raiser Paula Bogenrief.

“Pine, stand,” Bogenrief directed the 1-year-old pup as the students began to come through Segerstrom’s glass doors.

As Pine saw them approaching, he rose to sit still in his yellow vest and blue collar.

Some students were a bit shy and hovered their hands over his head, not quite ready to pet him. Others approached him with big smiles. His calm temperament and focus never faltered either way.

“Oftentimes, children are attracted to the dogs, they want to say ‘Hi’ and they interact,” Bogenrief said. “It’s a nice ice-breaker and allows them to take a step socially that they might not have taken before.”

Pine is the eighth dog Bogenrief and her family have raised under Canine Companions.

She receives each puppy at 8 weeks old and it stays with the family for a year-and-a-half of training.

“It never gets easier,” Bogenrief said of letting each of her dogs go. But she added that by the end of their training, they’ll leave with skills to assist their partners like tugging on door handles and pressing elevator buttons.

Ashley Missik, whose daughter Carly, 4, attends Segerstrom’s school, said her family has applied to have a dog from Canine Companions for Carly.

“She uses a walker and wears braces on her legs,” Missik said, noting that a skilled companion could help her open doors and pick up dropped items. “I think a dog will also just help with creating some physical space. Some people are in a hurry and I’ve seen them step on her walker.”

Missik said she hopes her daughter will have a companion to accompany her in settings like the mall or on vacations.

“She loves the dogs here [at Segerstrom],” Missik said. “Any one of these dogs could be Carly’s. I would trust them with her for sure.”

Pine lay patiently as the school’s last summer class wrapped up. Carly and the other students walked out of their rehearsal room to say goodbye to their canine companion.

She carefully let go of her walker to sit down and meet Pine at eye level. He stayed still as she patted his head.

How to enroll in the classes

The School of Dance and Music for Children with Disabilities will begin its eight-week fall session of classes on Sept. 11.

For more information or to enroll in the program, visit scfta.org.

Alexandra.Chan@latimes.com

Twitter: @AlexandraChan10


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