If you see a beautiful black dog walking around the campus of the Harrisburg University of Science and Technology, curb your temptation to pet her. The K9 isn’t someone’s pet or the university mascot—she’s working.
Galaxy is a 2-year-old service dog who helps Harrisburg University freshman Collin Butler manage the stress induced by autism.
“Everyone loves her,” says one geospatial technology student who often feels the urge to pet her but knows to ask first.
Galaxy was trained by Susquehanna Service Dogs to detect when Butler is feeling stressed.
For example, when Galaxy senses that Butler is unknowingly rocking in his seat or swaying while standing, she will nudge him to make him aware of it. Galaxy also responds to the commands, “bump” and “touch.” And she even will lay across Butler’s legs on command. The pressure she applies to his legs helps Butler cope with stress.
“Galaxy is really helpful,” said Collin’s mother, Michele Butler. “And she is really helpful at home. But we can’t be super playful with her all the time. She is focused on him. At home, we need to have minimal contact with her.”
Ruby Ile, the woman who trained Galaxy alongside her husband Keith, says that service dogs often are trained to help people bound to wheelchairs or assist those saddled with hearing, balance or seizure issues. Galaxy was the first dog the Iles trained for the Pennsylvania service dog organization. And since only a select few of the dogs placed with trainers become service dogs, the couple is thrilled that Galaxy made the cut.
The Iles are now training a second service dog using a 170-page manual and attending class one night a week. Galaxy stayed in the Ile’s East Pennsboro Township home full-time, from December, 2015 through March, 2017.
Afterward she attended Advanced Training, and then was placed with the Butler’s in their Cumberland County home last month. In addition to residences, service dogs can be placed in schools, courthouses, prisons, nursing homes, oncology clinics, and other facilities.
“Galaxy has been trained to interrupt behaviors that may interfere with Collin’s ability to be successful,” Susquehanna Service dogs said. The pups learn how anxiety or stress may manifest physically in the partner, and respond on cue when the partner feels a need for soothing—like during homework time.
Often, when service dogs like Galaxy are placed with people with a diagnosis of autism, it gives them the confidence to explore things like college and employment. Their service dog often acts as an avenue for them to be more comfortable socializing or starting conversation – and their service dog provides a starting point for conversation.
This is especially true at HU, where Galaxy seems to have a similarly soothing effect on everyone she meets.
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