Animal Assisted Interventions In Foster Care: Support Animals

Service Dog working with foster kids in Virginia

Pet Therapy and Support Animals in Foster Care

Pet Therapy and Facility Dogs 

Jax, III is a facility/pet therapy dog from Canine Companions for Independence. He is a 5-year-old Labrador/Golden Retriever cross. Jax was carefully bred and expertly trained, specifically for working with children, so he is friendly, fun, sweet, and gentle. Jax is trustworthy in professional environments and can perform over 40 commands designed to motivate and inspire the children we serve. With all assistance dogs and service dogs, learning skills to help achieve the mission, whether foster care system or with mental illnesses like depression or anxiety.

Service dog Jax, a pet therapy dog from Canine Companions for Independence

Jax was bred and born in California. Facility dogs are bred to have a lower-than-average instinctual drive and reactivity. His puppy raiser was a student at Mary Washington University and is now an Animal Behaviorist at the Audubon Zoo in New Orleans, LA. Jax underwent a two-year extensive and specialized training program.

He was selected for his role at ESP because of his comfort in being in a public setting and interacting with various people daily. These traits are bred over generations to assist in the needs of the client or facility the dog is working in. Service dogs are fantastic at social interactions and remaining calm, even with little people hanging on an ear or two.

Jax joined the Extra Special Parents staff in August 2017. He was carefully matched with his handler, Toni Collins. He is ADA certified and when in the company of his handler and the children he serves, has public access. 

Picture this: Children in foster care going through the adoption process have had an overwhelming number of people in their life… A parade of social workers, mental health professionals, case workers, school employees, maybe even the police, foster parents… the list goes on and on… Children have had to repeat “their story” time and time again….

When it comes time to work on their Life Book, perhaps the most complex story in their life as it tells about their separation from their biological family, here is yet another person to talk to. I have said, “You don’t have to talk to me; tell Jax.” I had a child who got on the floor with Jax, hid his face in Jax’s fur, cried, then began to talk.

When children face despair, loneliness, depression, or anything beyond their ability to cope, a dog can help ease the pain. Jax can give a child a reason to get out of negative thoughts to focus on a sense of purpose. What Jax gives to our children cannot be measured.

Jax can also pull toy wagons, push drawers closed and retrieve all kinds of items. Jax will even get you a tissue when you sneeze! He has specific commands that allow him to interact with children calmly and appropriately.

Jax also provides comfort as well as fun to our entire staff. He is an integral part of our ESP family. 

Where to find service dogs in Virginia

Many puppy raisers will be in these locations, like schools of social workers; we also have to learn our skills. Trained dogs need a great foundation to succeed, and these puppy raisers and advanced trainers are all around us, so always look for them; they are always working hard.

Respect the training and ask the trainer or the owner before approaching a working dog. Service dogs have ways to be approached when working. Just ask before touching.

Suppose you want to understand how and why children in and out of foster care do so well with animals of all kinds. In that case, this article from will give you a great understanding of why service animals do so well with foster care kids. One of our local charities is the fantastic Service Dogs of Virginia. One of our staff was a puppy raiser in 2021 - 2022.

Please visit Jax on Instagram - Jax3SP. Also, visit to learn more about professional dogs. You will find service dogs in social services and schools of social work.


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