Preston the dog warms hearts while helping young adults with disabilities learn life skills

Connecticut Families

NEW HAVEN, Conn. (WTNH) — “Preston is a 3-year-old Labrador golden retriever cross, he’s a facility dog here,” explains handler Danielle Drazen, referring to a one-of-a-kind addition to Chapel Haven Schleifer Center.

The dog opens doors, prompts a reaction and lends a hand with his mouth. “He’s a service dog, so he’s been trained to pick things up when we drop them and I love to pat him,” says 23-year-old Arianna Peyton, a resident at the non-profit helping adults with disabilities live independent lives.

“We go to the bank, the library, the park,” says 22-year-old James Stavola. Preston has become a close confidante to these residents. When they play a game talking about their goals, he plays, too.

“He kind of makes me feel like I’m on top of the world,” says Stavola, as he gives the dog a cuddle. “Look at his cute face.”

“They may be a little bit anxious or reluctant to do something but when I say, ‘Hey Preston, would love it if you’d give that a try.’ Then they’ll say, ‘OK, I’ll try it for him,'” explains Drazen.

The pup, raised by Canine Companions for Independence, lives with Drazen, also a teacher at the campus that’s clearly dog-friendly. Porsche, who is blind, and Skye, in a wheelchair, join Preston in inspiring those around them.

“He mostly helps me to calm down because I’ve been having my own problems lately,” says 20-year-old Jessica Wills.

The command, “Cover,” encourages Preston to lie across a student’s lap. “It provides sensory input to ground the student,” explains Drazen. It’s just another example of how he just helps folks feel good with his warm, sweet and gentle nature.

“Sometimes dogs make me feel better when I’m in a bad mood, too,” says Peyton.

Preston is looking forward to a long career at Chapel Haven. Surely by the time he retires, in maybe 8 years or so, he will have touched hundreds of lives.

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