THE relationship with a dog is an unbreakable bond between a family member and a best friend – and Youth Support and Advocacy Service (YSAS) Morwell has just welcomed a new four-legged member into their family.

Alongside their almost four-year-old dog, Maggie May, the new dog, Charlie, is learning how to support youngsters in troubled times. From being a greeter at the door, an ice-breaker, or saying hello at school, Charlie and Maggie have created a new bond, which makes them look more like siblings than co-workers.

Best pal: For support and comfort in tough times, Charlie is here to help. Photograph: Katrina Brandon

While the sibling-like behaviour is a lot of fun, YSAS Manager, Mark Tanti, said that the husbandry education for the new pup would help him understand what his position will be and how he should behave.

“There are school refusal kids. So, it might just be not coming to school. They have to put up a sign in a school saying that ‘Such and such a dog is in there’,” he said.

“They have to get water for the dog’s bowl, they have to get their beds out. It’s an incentive for them to go to school because they are responsible for the dog for the day, and all that other stuff about going to class and interacting with other kids is not so hard.

“The dog can never psycho-analyse a patient or client. They just offer an opportunity for people to feel calm. They might not feel comfortable in the office, so that they will take them for a walk.”

Mr Tanti told the Express that when most people see dogs, they get a hit of dopamine, which helps them relax. Having the dogs there also helps them open up or provide a distraction, which takes away a problem for a few seconds.

Before a client enters the YSAS office on Tarwin Street, YSAS staff ensure they are comfortable having the canine companions present. This ensures that both the client and the dogs are safe.

Service dogs such as Charlie and Maggie are found in multiple situations, not just youth centres and supports.

Mr Tanti took a therapy dog course with Therapy Dogs Australia, Queensland, where he met with psychologists, dentists, occupational therapists, and social workers who were all taught about good animal husbandry and some things that people can do with the dogs and their clients.

During his time at YSAS, Charlie has already made it his home, but he hasn’t quite gotten used to the travel aspect of his job.

“We are lucky. Seeing the dogs, going for walks, and having the kids talk about stuff is interesting. Talking is a useful tool for discovering what is going on, their goals, what they hope to achieve, and more,” Mr Tanti said.

“I think it is about being around people. He (Charlie) loves people, and so does she (Maggie).”

YSAS is a support service for youth, providing outreach programs for young people between 12 and 21-years-old. They also offer youth support services for those between 10-17 years-of-age who could be at risk of entering the youth justice system.