Paws for a Cause: David & Levi

BATON ROUGE, LA (WAFB) - Hope Academy is a school in Baton Rouge for children with learning disabilities. About a month ago, two new students arrived at the school. And, one in particular took a little getting used to.

For the students in Miss Hand's class, a lesson on counting money has their attention. But in the back corner of the room, there's one student who doesn't appear too interested.

Levi, a black lab, is an autism service dog. For most of the school day, he's connected to David, a 15-year-old boy with autism. Ask David why he's attached to the dog and he will tell you Levi keeps him calm and safe.

Years ago, David went through a rough period hitting, kicking and yelling. But once he got with Levi, a trained service dog, David seemed to calm down.

"This is definitely different, but it works. That's what's important," said Brooke Hand, David's teacher. She says having a dog in the classroom took some getting used to. But Levi's presence has a positive impact on keeping David focused.

"We remind him what should you do if you're feeling anxious or feeling unhappy or upset about something. He says, 'I pet Levi, I pet Levi, Levi keeps me safe and calm'.

While our cameras were in the classroom, David got a little anxious - asking the teacher when the camera was leaving. We watched as he reached out to Levi, pet him, looked at him for a while and calmed himself.

David's classmates know they are not allowed to pet the dog, because he's working. But teachers say Levi has also helped calm other kids.

"He (another student) came in and spoke real softly to Levi, petting him. Definitely helped his behavior de-escalate," said Hand.

It's a positive for most everyone, especially for David who used to be afraid of dogs.

"He's a best friend," David said about his buddy.

If David ever gets overwhelmed and runs off, Levi is trained to find him. The principal at Hope Academy says the only time David and Levi are not connected is during gym class. That's because Levi tends to gets a little excited when the kids are playing with balls.

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