Erika Shawvery is the mother of a 3-year-old boy named Caiden. He suffers from a sensory-processing disorder that has impacted his life in a few different ways. One big problem that Shawvery had noticed was that her son couldn't stand being in water.
He had been signed up for swimming lessons, but every time they tried to get him to go into the water he would end up in hysterics. But they finally found a way to make it work. When Caiden met Cori, everything changed.
Cori is a 1-year-old golden Labrador Retriever mix who has been trained as a water rescue dog. Right now, she is working as a "canine assistant" to swimming instructors to help make pools less scary for kids. Shawvery couldn't believe the change she witnessed in her son. He normally had a lot of anxiety about strangers, noises, and being touched, but as soon as Cori was in the water with him he was fine.
“He can get overwhelmed so easily, so I was shocked when I saw how quickly he responded to Cori,” Shawvery said. “He had confidence in the dog, which made him confident in himself and it made him want to swim with Cori. Then he began to trust the teacher because she was helping him be with Cori.”
It only took three sessions with Cori for Caiden to build up the trust he needed in his instructor. Cori wasn't always the superstar swimmer she is now, she's had to go through quite the journey to get to where she is...
Cori used to actually be afraid of the water. When she was a puppy her owners couldn't convince her to get in, but it was on a beach trip that she seemed to change her mind. Her handler, Deb Parker, said that as kids would come near her she would jump towards the water. She would swim with them and play in the water, always making sure they were safe.
“Cori just has a natural instinct,” Parker said. "She thinks everybody in a body of water is going to drown and needs to be saved, that's her natural instinct," said her owner, Judy Fridono. "This is what this dog wants to do, she loves it and she's good at it."
It all came together when Parker met Jodi Powell at the Waves of Empowerment Autism Paddleboard Camp. Powell's son has a similar sensory processing issue as Caiden, and they realized that he was doing so much better in the water when he was with their dog.
They realized that they could help other kids as well, so they started to develop a program. Cori was given a special life-saving vest with handles that kids could grip onto, and they started to work with Powell's son to try and perfect the techniques needed.
“Cori is the bridge between the instructor and special-needs children,” Parker said. “What she does is create a bridge of trust between them and then the magic can happen.”
They hope to one day make their own facility where the program can be run full-time. They have been offering free scholarships to those who can't afford the program, but will accept donations to help cover the costs. If you want to learn more about the program you can check out their website.