ITBP’s canine warriors chip in to help children with special needs

In a first-of-its-kind initiative, ITBP’s retired dogs are helping in therapy of autism-affected children in Chandigarh

Tribune News Service

Vijay Mohan

Chandigarh, May 17

After guarding the tough Himalayan borders and neutralising deadly threats from bombs and terrorists, the Indo-Tibetan Border Police Force’s (ITBP) canine warriors have chipped in to help out children with special needs in Chandigarh, much to their joy and delight.

In the first instance of its kind in India, four retired ITBP dogs--Sultan and Rozy, both Labradors along with Speed, a German Shepard and Toofan, a Malinois--visited the Institute of Special Children here as part of the therapy process for children affected with Autism Spectrum Disorder.

“ITBP is the first force in the country that is collaborating with a government institution for special children so that our veteran K-9s (specially-trained police dogs) can help improve lives of kids,” Dr Sudhakar Natarajan, Deputy Inspector General heading the ITBP’s veterinary branch said. “This is also the first time in the country that dogs are being used for therapy of special children,” he added.

The dogs will be visiting the institute three times a week. All four K-9s have retired after putting in many years of service in counter insurgency areas and have detected numerous explosives and enemy ambushes. They are presently housed in the ITBP’s retirement home for dogs at its National Training Center for Dogs in Bhanu, near Chandigarh, where there are a total of 16 such dogs at present.

Autism spectrum is a serious developmental disorder that impairs the ability to communicate and interact. It impacts the nervous system and affects the overall cognitive, emotional, social and physical health of the affected individual and requires a specialist approach to deal with it.

“It has been scientifically validated that non-verbal and non-human interaction of special children with trained K-9s can improve their demeanour, hand-to-eye coordination and eye contact besides reducing hyperactivity in some cases. The presence of a canine companion has a soothing effect on children with special needs,” Dr Natarajan said.

Like children, dogs too are playful and affectionate and the connect which can be established between dogs and children is remarkable. “This is because unlike human interaction, the company of dogs is completely non-judgmental and simple acts like grazing into a dog’s eyes or patting its head can bring lots of cognitive changes in the child,” Dr Natarajan said.

Last year, ITBP began using retired K-9s as therapy dogs for its personnel and other patients admitted to its hospitals. Though the concept of therapy dogs is old, it is a novel venture in India.

The role of a therapy dog is vastly different and at most times at odds with the combat duties, a K-9 is trained for. From being ferocious and aggressive, they now need to be docile, affectionate and playful. There are also instances worldwide of other animals, such as trained horses, being used for emotional therapy of patients or the elderly.


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