Prader-Willi syndrome (PWS), a chromosomal abnormality, is the most common known genetic cause of life-threatening obesity in children affecting 1 in 15,000 children. The PraderWilli Alliance of New York held their 23rd annual conference in Syracuse from April 26th 27th. Sunshine Friends, Inc. was a proud participant in this event, as volunteers and their dogs attended the conference to lend support and bring happiness to the children who attended the weekend’s events with their parents.
Joy Hawksby and her dog Keno attended the event, and helped a shy little participant learn firsthand the happiness that interacting with a dog can bring.
“She came into the room in the arms of her babysitter. The sitter…had the child (maybe 18 months old) held very tightly around her waist. The child was struggling to get down because the sitter had positioned her right at Keno’s face… She was able to get away and ran to the other end of the room….She then crossed to the other side of the room and went to the opposite end and crawled under the table there and just watched how people were interacting with Keno. She then slowly made her way to me. She stood by my side where Keno’s tail was and just touched him with a finger. She looked up at me and laughed! I told her Keno really liked that so she touched him again. I praised her and in just about a minute she was petting Keno on his hip. She then gathered her courage and slid around to my other side at Keno’s head. She then touched his head with a finger. Keno turned his head and looked at her. She looked at me and I again smiled and praised her. Again, in under a minute she was petting Keno on his head. All he ever did was look at her, allowing her to get comfortable.”
For a child, initial interactions with dogs and other animals are important, influential moments that help teach children how to interact with the world around them. They can teach a child to overcome a fear, or can offer a new experience. Children struggling with PraderWilli Syndrome are characterized as having sweet, loving dispositions, yet they will face challenges in their lifetimes that most of us could never imagine. They will be challenged to be brave every day as they learn to cope with their illness and maintain their health. For children living with PraderWilli Syndrome, every challenge overcome is a testiment to this bravery.
For children, interactions with SFI dogs like Keno can mean an opportunity for friendship, warmth, temporary relief from the stress or tension of life, and even an opportunity to learn that meeting someone new, though scary at first, can mean making a special new friend for life.