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Fun therapy with canine friends

Games with dogs. Part of the therapy takes place in the new inclusive park.
Games with dogs. Part of the therapy takes place in the new inclusive park. / ANDREA JIMÉNEZ
  • An association in Coín holds dog therapy classes for children with functional diversity from all over the province and has just built an inclusive park

Paula arrives for her therapy session, as she does every Tuesday. She's happy, and looking forward to playing with her 'teachers', Alberto and Bárbara, and some furry friends, because this is a very different type of therapy. "Come on Fiona, let's start!" she says. Fiona, a water dog who has been specially trained for therapies with children, is only too happy to oblige.

So begins another afternoon of play for Paula, working on psychomotricity as part of a programme of activities especially designed for her. She is one of the pupils at Adiestramiento Canino Coín, a non-profit-making association which provides therapies with dogs for children with functional diversity.

"We have been working with dogs for over 15 years and realised how beneficial animal therapies can be, so we decided to train in that field and created this association," say Alberto Martín and Antonio Solano, who founded this project. They work with a team consisting of a psychologist, lawyer, doctor, occupational therapist, social integration technician and speech therapist.

At present they are based in Coín, opposite La Trocha shopping centre, and they attend to 18 children with functional diversity from all over Malaga province.

"Over the years we have been able to expand thanks to donations and sponsorships, and there is a waiting list to come here now," they say. When they first started, they visited the children at home.

A swing for wheelchairs.

A swing for wheelchairs. / A. JIMÉNEZ

The therapy sessions last for one hour, once a week, and are individual. First, the children work on different activities in a room with the monitors and the dogs. The association has six canine friends: Fiona, Kenia, Rex, Hippie, Bowie and Trueno. "They all work with the children;they take turns, so they all get a chance," they explain.

The early sessions are spent getting to know the dogs, so the children adapt well to them and are not afraid. "It's play therapy, and we want them to see the dogs as friends. Then, we start creating the therapeutic objectives," says Alberto.

This connection also helps the children to overcome new challenges. "My children are normally afraid of dogs, but they're not scared of these ones. With these dogs you can adapt the session to suit every need," says one of the parents who comes with his children every week.

Just as the connection with the dogs is necessary, the time eventually comes to say goodbye to them. When a pupil finishes his or her therapy or has to stop for any reason, a disconnection programme is put into place. "If we don't do that it can do a lot of damage, because a special bond has been created," they say.

Donations

In order to keep costs down for families, the association seeks financing in different ways, such as sponsorship or T-shirt sales. "We always try to ensure that the families pay as little as possible."

One of the most recent donations has aroused interest nationally: actress Sara Sálamo and footballer Isco Alarcón have funded an inclusive park at the association's centre. "We wanted to put up a climbing wall to work on motricity. We decided to take a step further and offer an adapted play area, open to all children," they explain.

It all began when they contacted Sara via Instagram to ask her to lend her voice to a video to raise funds for the construction of this park. "After recording it, she asked us for a contact number and said she and her partner would pay for it. It was a dream come true because we didn't know if we would be able to raise enough money."

The park took two months to build and was finished in November, with the help of several companies. It has different spaces for adapted play, such as a wheelchair swing and a climbing wall. At present it is only for the therapy pupils, but the idea is to make it available for families all over the province. "We couldn't open the park because of Covid, but we will, for all children, just as soon as we can," they promise.