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Puppy pals provide support and companionship to young special needs children

By ErinPradia
Jan. 21, 2012 at 10:03 p.m.
Updated Jan. 20, 2012 at 7:21 p.m.

Sloan Bohac, 5, plays with his special needs dog who he and his parents picked up from a training program in Kansas. Sloan, who is autistic, attends class at the Manning Gymnastics Centerplex in Victoria, along with his siblings and father who are there for support.

COMING UP

Manning Gymnastics Special Needs Team Competitions:

March 3: National Championship in ConroeMarch 24: Competition at La Fiesta in San Antonio

Sloan clung to the leash of his yellow lab as he entered Manning Gymnastics Centerplex for his gym lesson on Saturday.

Since he got the service dog in June 2011, "Brach" has never left the side of the 5-year-old autistic boy.

"He is always with him. Wherever you find one, you find the other, from Grandma Mi-mi's to school or anywhere else," said his father, Scott Bohac. Brach even sleeps in the bed with Sloan.

Sloan cannot speak, but he is learning sign language to supplement his communication device, which helps him communicate through pictures. Brach helps keep Sloan calm, especially when he has meltdowns.

Sloan's twin sister, Sydney, and their brother, Cash, 7, accompany him to his gymnastics lesson for support. Sydney takes a separate gymnastics class through Manning Gymnastics Centerplex.

When they entered the gym, Sloan parked his puppy by the front door and ran off to tumble and jump with his brother and sister on the padded equipment.

Their father moved the dog to a slightly less trafficked area of the gym then joined his children warming up for gym practice.

"I'm filling in for their mother, Jamie, who is ill today," Bohac said. "She generally takes care of the children and takes Sloan to his doctors appointments and such - it's a full time job. She's the backbone of our family."

Sloan and his parents traveled to Kansas to get Brach from the Canine Assistance Rehabilitation and Education Services in Concordia, Kan.

Scott and Jamie Bohac and their son, Sloan, spent a week in training, learning about Brach and how to care for and communicate with him.

Sloan's gym classmate, Beau Blackwood, 5, who suffers from apraxia and seizure disorder, got a black Lab named "Lilly" from CARES in October 2011.

The dogs at CARES are trained by inmates for six to seven months as parts of a rehab program, said Beau's mother, Laura Deming Blackwood. The children and their parents get to meet the inmates who trained their dogs as parts of the program, Blackwood said.

"The dog has improved Beau's socialization skills. Since Beau can't talk - the dog draws other children to him," Blackwood said.

Blackwood said the dog has helped Beau's development as well because the 5-year-old boy who attends regular classes at Schorlemmer is responsible for the dog throughout the school day.

The boys' gym class will participate in cheerleading competitions for the first time this year. Jordan Payne instructs the children with help from volunteer cheerleaders from St. Joseph's High School, who also take gymnastics at Manning Gymnastics Centerplex.

"Everybody sit with your partners," said Payne at the start of the formal lesson.

The children stretched and they practiced cheering in formation and learning stunts at their first competition rehearsal. Brach sat peacefully to the side, unaffected by the commotion, but quick to turn tummy up to be petted by the children or adults who gave him attention.

"It's still a learning process and has been since we brought him home," Bohac said. "Sloan must have a structured routine anyway, but it helps having someone to be with him all the time, just to be a friend."

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