On a Spring day in May of 2015, a young man remained outside of the classroom in his mother’s car. Rebecca, Ashland School District Transitional Program Teacher, recalls that he would not come inside. “He experiences autism, severe anxiety, and depression, Rebecca explained, and has only averaged 1-2 days per week of class before coming to my class.” His mother would take him to school each day and he would complain of illnesses, aches, and pains to avoid going to class. Later that month, a beautiful brown, tan and black rescue dog named Hilton was at the door. Hilton had joined Rebecca’s classroom as a Program Assistance Dog, professionally trained by Jenny Nickelson, a Dogs for Better Lives trainer. On that day, the young man said: “I’m going in, Mom.” From that day forward, he never missed a day of class. Rebecca recalls the daily routine.
“This student would enter the classroom and head directly to the couch, drop his backpack off of the shoulder with a thud to the floor, and flop onto the couch while saying ‘come on Hilton!’”
Hilton would jump up on his lap and the hugging, petting, and licking would begin. With his tail wagging, Hilton would cover him with kisses all over his face. The student laughed and smiled with glee! The student began to engage in the walking and exercise hour, suggesting that Hilton could use a walk too. During the early morning “check-in” process he not only joined the circle for the first time but eventually began making eye contact with other students. Rebecca’s students range in age from 18 to 21 and need to learn basic life skills to help them integrate into society as independent contributors to their community.