Beloved Benson provides help in classroom

Thousands enjoyed their first day of school across the Illawarra this week.

Among them was a two-year-old yellow labrador called Benson, who attended his first day at Lake Illawarra High School.

Trained by Assistance Dogs Australia, Benson is the organisation's third "facility dog".

As the name suggests, the dogs can be placed in a variety of facilities, ranging from aged-care homes and schools to rehabilitation centres, rather than with individuals.

Trainer Victoria Harwood said Benson now lived with one of the high school's teachers, who was Benson's primary carer.

At home, Benson is a regular dog but, during school hours, he interacts with students in classrooms, including those with special needs.

Ms Harwood said the idea was for Benson to help create a calming environment in classrooms, with students enjoying all the unconditional support a dog can provide.

"It is really good for kids to learn how to teach a dog tricks and praise a dog when it does the right things," Ms Harwood said.

Assistance Dogs Australia primarily trains labradors and golden retrievers to help people with physical disabilities perform tasks they can find difficult or impossible to achieve by themselves.

Depending on the dog's ability, they perform tasks like picking up dropped items, opening and closing doors, getting the phone, and even getting bottles of water out of the fridge.

The more elite dogs are known as service dogs and not only assist people with disabilities in the home, but make their way in public as well.

The organisation is in desperate need of puppy carers, of which there are already a number in the Illawarra.

Carers look after dogs up until the age of 18 months and are required to attend training at Waterfall once a week for the first six months and once a fortnight after that.

Assistance Dogs is again making plans for its annual Hogs for Dogs Harley Ride, from Cronulla to the Illawarra, on March 17.

The ride sees the Liverpool Harley Owners Group provide their time and bikes as a charity donation.

Cost for the day is $125, which includes the ride of your life, morning tea, Hogs Breath lunch and a limited-edition bandanna.

Visit www.assistancedogs.org.au or call 1800 688 364 for more information.

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