LOS ANGELES (Circa) -- Learning how to swim can be scary for any child. For kids like Sky, 7, with severe anxiety, it's a living nightmare.
"She won't let us go past 3.5 feet of water or she'll have almost a panic attack, where she'll squeeze on to me and start crying," said Jodi Powell, her swimming instructor.
That's why Powell enlisted the help of Cori, a Golden/Labrador Retriever mix. Through Special Fishies swim school, they teach kids with special needs how to swim.
Dogs don’t fail you.
"The number one cause of death for special needs children is drowning and that continues through adolescence, so it's huge," said Powell, who's been teaching kids with special needs how to swim in Southern California for more than 10 years.
Powell met Cori through Judy Fridono of Surfdog Ricochet, an organization that uses a surfing dog to help people with disabilities learn to surf Judy is Cori's owner and noticed she had a knach for swimming early on.
"My neighbor, one of the teenagers next door, was in the pool trying to get her in, and she went underwater," said Fridono. "And when that happened, Cori saw her and got all, like, nervous like ‘Oh my gosh, I gotta go save her.’”
It wasn't me working with a dog. We became partners.
Then Powell met Fridono.
“[She] and I were at an event last year, and we were just discussing how to break through the barriers faster— fear, anxiety, autism, sensory processing," said Powell. "Because some kids, it can take me anywhere from six months to a couple years to break through. And she was telling me about Cori, and we said, 'Let’s try it.'”
And the results have been remarkable, says Jodi.
"Sky—today would be like her 7th lesson. She'll start screaming, 'Coach Jodi, please, please, please, please" anytime she can't feel the bottom of the pool, says Powell.
But when Cori comes into the pool, it's like a big safety net slides underneath Sky.
"She’ll back-float with Cori and not let me anywhere near them. She’s actually told me go away," said Powell.
“I held on to her and it was fun, fun, fun," said Sky. "So it was good."
Powell wanted to improve her classes so she and Cori got trained by the Italian School of Rescue Dogs.
"That changed our whole dynamic. It wasn’t me working with a dog. We became partners," said Powell.
Together they've helped dozens of kids with special needs in Southern California learn how to swim. Jodi thinks she knows why their technique works.
“Dogs don’t fail you. It’s the truth. I’ve had a dog my entire life, and they don’t leave you," said Powell. "Human beings fail kids all the time.”