That was the assessment from Sándor Kozup, leader of Blue Star – a Hungarian NGO using dog therapy (also known as canis therapy) for children with disabilities.
Disadvantaged children in Hungary with handicaps, special educational needs, and learning- and behavioural problems (like for example autism) do often suffer from the lack of activities in nurseries and schools. According to Kozup, the weekly dog therapy sessions have improved the life of many children.
“We can already see how the treatment develops the children’s personality, how they think and talk, and the length of their attention span,” he says.
The main focus is children with different kinds of physical and psychological disabilities, but the Blue Star also hold sessions for children without disabilities on a monthly basis. They try to adapt the therapy sessions to each child's particular needs.
“Some have more serious handicaps than others, and the treatment depends on the child. The main goal is to see progress in the individual from the interaction with the dogs,” he explains.
So far the Blue Star has been able to reach around 160 children in four different institutions in Ózd, a Hungarian county.
The project started in September 2013 and will last until July 2014. The Blue Star has received around €9000 from the EEA Grants Hungarian NGO fund.
Man’s best friend
Different dog breeds are involved in the therapy, but common for them all is special training for the purpose. The dogs are always accompanied by a volunteer.
Dogs are known as “man’s best friend”. The idea behind dog therapy is that the dogs love people just as they are, irrespective of their condition, success and failures.
“The presence of dogs in the therapy brings joy and gives a sense of security,” Kozup continues.
More projects on the horizon
Dog therapy related activities are also funded through the EEA Grants Estonian NGO programme. Here, three NGOs – Assistance Dogs Centre, Ida-Virumaa’s Dog’s Friend Club and Viimsi Society for People with Disabilities – are project partners to further develop dog therapy in Estonia.
Representatives from the three NGOs have visited similar organisations in Poland and Russia to gain knowledge and later implement new methods in Estonia. Tatjana Zamorskaja from Ida-Virumaa’s Dog’s Friend Club, explains why:
“They have worked in this field for more than 10 years and have long experience, so it was very valuable for us to see how they work.”
Around 20 persons participated during the seminar, where the aim was to establish a strong core of volunteers. Zamorskaja stressed how essential the funding from the Grants is:
“We are just volunteers and we want to have more activities. So the support is very important to us,” she says.
Civil society a key priority
The EEA Grants support NGO programmes worth around €147 million in 15 beneficiary countries. NGOs are also eligible for funding under many of the other thematic EEA and Norway Grants programmes. This makes the Grants one of the prime funding schemes for civil society in Central and Southern Europe.