Benni, service dog in training, dazzles preschoolers

Kids love visit from their 'cushy, fuzzy, squishy' friend

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  • Benni and his trainer, Chrisanne Cubby, are at the center of a group petting extravaganza at Kids Play Today (Photo by Frances Ruth Harris)

  • Benni mixes and mingles with all hands on (Photo by Frances Ruth Harris)

  • Gabriel Mattarazzo, 7 months, cooed when Benni joined him and Christine Butter (Photo by Frances Ruth Harris)

  • Benni began learning to remain on his pad when in the company of others (Photo by Frances Ruth Harris)

  • Benni feels the love (Photo by Frances Ruth Harris)

  • Chrisanne Cubby and Benni wait outside Kids Play Today for their usual Monday visit to start (Photo by Frances Ruth Harris)

  • Chrisanne Cubb and Benni back in February, when he first arrived in Milford (Photo by Frances Ruth Harris)

By Frances Ruth Harris

— Benni waited patiently to make his entrance at Kids Play Today, a childcare facility on Route 6 in Shohola that he visits every Monday. The kids were just finishing the Pledge to Allegiance.

Then the moment all were waiting for arrived.

"He squishy," one little girl said as she and her classmates swarmed Benni, a service dog training to help children with autism.

The preschoolers couldn't get enough of the puppy's thick, soft fur. They petted him and hugged him and crunched his fur in their hands.

"He so cushy!" another girl exclaimed.

"He's fuzzy," said a boy, getting in a good stroke.

Benni, looking stylish in his official new service vest, soaked up all the affection happily. He and the children really like each other.

At four months, Benni tips the scales at 30 pounds. His father weighs 90, so he has a ways to go. The veterinarian told his trainer, Chrisanne Cubby, that he'll probably weigh 80 pounds as an adult.

Benni is the star of his puppy class.

"It's not all my training," said Cubby. "He's a special dog. He has great qualities. He learns quickly."

Cubby said a service dog will change the behavior of an autistic child. Parents say their autistic children achieve a calmness with service dogs they don't have otherwise.

Cubby says this calming effect helps curb impulses. Often the dog will sleep with the child through the night so that the child doesn't get up and wander off.

Autistic children often have fewer friends than other children. The service dog becomes an important friend in the child's life.

So if a gift for friendship is what a service dog most needs, then Benni is well on his way to his destiny.

BluePath, a nonprofit founded in 2016, provides service dogs to people with autism. Benni and his siblings were donated by Project 2 Heal, based in North Carolina, which breeds Labrador retriever puppies with the temperament that allows them to perform well as service dogs. The organization focuses on helping veterans and children with autism. For more information visit

Related storyThe Courier will continue to follow the progress of Benni's training. For a related story, when Benni had just arrived in Milford, see: "Benni's in training to help an autistic child":

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