'K-9 Friendly Visitors' help disabled students in Coachella Valley

Program benefits deaf, disabled & special needs students

Dogs help disabled students adjust

RANCHO MIRAGE, Calif. - Three dogs are changing the lives of the disabled community in the Coachella Valley.  

News Channel 3 and CBS Local 2 first told you about K-9 Friendly Visitors a year ago.  Now this remarkable program is helping over 300 disabled students all over the valley realize their potential.

These dogs will be able to touch even more lives now as the city of Rancho Mirage is behind them.

Gone are the days of Lassie, but border collies are still enriching the lives of our youth.  Lana, Amus and Rain are three dogs that have the remarkable ability to bring out the best in these Coachella Valley kids.

"She is a nice dog, she is pretty calm. She listens to you," said student Juan Hermosillo.

Juan is one of K-9 Friendly Visitors' students at Cathedral City High School.

"I wouldn't be able to get near dogs, and now I pet them, I give them water, I help with grooming the dogs," said Juan.

These simple tasks helped Juan build enough strength in his hands to get around on his own using a walker.

"He is up and walking, he is out of the wheelchair. He is using more mobility and greater freedom in terms of his own confidence as well," said  K-9 Friendly Visitors' founder Michael Neu.

Juan is just one of many students feeling the healing powers of these special dogs.

Devin, who doesn't speak, can now follow directions.

"Its really helped his self esteem and his interaction where he wasn't doing that earlier in the year at all," said Devin's teacher Charmain Lowe.

The kids in the program are not the only ones who face challenges. The dog Rain, the nonprofit's newest addition, is completely blind.

"They look at Rain and are able to say she is perfectly fine and we love her, I guess we are not so bad either," said Neu.

It's an important realization for anyone, but especially for the disabled community where Neu says suicide is a concern.

"To see that this really aided their self esteem, it just enriched their lives, it was amazing," said Lowe.  "It's not just the dogs visiting us, it's so much more than that, because Michael teaches a lesson. Him and I collaborate on strategies for students."

This lesson is at Wolfson park in Rancho Mirage, one of the only parks in the valley completely accessible for the disabled, featuring braille and audio trails.

"It has things that they can touch, experience almost like an outside children's museum that makes it really special and friendly as a venue that is not really known about," said Neu.

"It's made them more open to learning, they pay more attention, they are more excited,"said Lowe.

Now the city of Rancho Mirage is getting involved.

"We, the city, are contributing to his cause. It is a very worthwhile program and we are trying to do whatever possible to make sure that the word gets out there that there are programs like this that deal with children and adults with disabilities," said Rancho Mirage Mayor Elect Iris Smotrich.

The city is also keeping the program's students in mind during the renovation of White Water park.

"They have spent time examining what is here that has made this park so special and accessible," said Neu.

Neu hopes the city will be the first of many that gets moved by these gentle animals.

"There is something that the dogs do that we can teach and we can use different strategies that meet the kids in a different way that we can't do," said Lowe.

"It's helped me a lot, I'm thankful to Michael for that," said Juan.

K-9 Friendly Visitors is a non-profit organization and is run entirely by volunteers and donations. For more information, visit K-9 Friendly Visitors.

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