April 28, 2020 | Blog
Q&A with Megan Weinberger
By Merrick Egber
Megan Weinberger, President of Rescue Life, an animal shelter organization, has played a vital role in the implementation of two of the Foundation’s new programs: The Adult Day Training (ADT) Program and Canine Connections.
Through the ADT Program, autistic adults go into the community to learn new skills and practice old ones. When they go out to Megan’s farm, they learn about the animals there, clean the equipment and groom the animals, with Megan helping every step of the way.
Through the Canine Connections program, autistic individuals learn how to take care of, and build relationships and values with dogs, primarily through the process of walking dogs. It builds up social skills and relationship values through this kind of experience that is helpful when out and about.
I was able to connect with Megan to ask her about her past experiences with animals, history with special needs individuals, and what it is like helping people out with our programs.
What were your earliest experiences with dogs? My family has rescued dogs since before I was born. We have had dogs since I can remember. Our first three were Buffy & Tuffy both Poodles and Sunshine a beautiful Black Lab.
What did they teach you? Dogs have taught me to care about others that need help. Dogs can’t fill up their own food or water bowl. We have to care for them. Dogs give unconditional love and never judge. We can learn a lot farm animals.
I’ve read that you’ve committed your work to organizations involving animals….How did you get involved? Growing up my family rescued many animals. My mom and dad started a Humane Society in our garage. The town we lived in did not have an animal shelter. Having a sister with Special needs I saw first hand how healing animals were for others.
Have you had any prior experiences with individuals with ASD? What about therapy animals? My parents adopted my sister Louise & Kristi. Louise was born with Down Syndrome. We always held handicapped horse back riding classes at our farm in Fort Lauderdale. We use donkeys, horses, pigs, cats, dogs and even a Goose named Quackers for therapy at the farm.
How did you get in touch with the Foundation? I had been taking dogs to the Renaissance School [The Learning Academy] for a few years. I was also involved with the committee for Liezl’s Tea Party.
When auditing the dogs for Canine Connection, what dogs did you pick for the program itself? After we rescue a dog we will see how their temperament is in many situations. If we feel the dog would be a good fit to take to schools we then begin a long training process. The dogs learn basic commands and then go onto more serious training.
What is the biggest reward of the Canine Connection Experience? We feel very honored to bring the dogs to the Center. We all love getting to know the students, teachers and even family members.
Has it taught you anything new about dogs? Every time we visit the Center we learn a little something new about the dogs. Maybe one was curious from a noise they heard and we re-directed the dog to sit or stay so they can learn that new sound.
What has it taught you about people with ASD? We have learned they are very good dog trainers.
What have you seen from individuals enrolled in the Canine Connection program after they’ve spent sometime with it? The individuals get to know the dogs names, personalities and some even know if a dog doesn’t like something they will share it with their peers.
If you had to tell anyone about the Program what would you say? I would say it is an amazing program and they should tell their friends to come and meet the dogs.
For this Autism Awareness Month, it is crucial to recognize those individuals making a difference for the autistic community, like Megan Weinberger. Thanks Megan for all of the good work you’ve been doing!