Mi Fido di Te , I Confide in Your Paws

Disability is a factor of social exclusion, Pet Therapy is key to a better socialization for children with cognitive disorders.

Photo of Patricia Dubois Zanini
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I confirm that I am fully aware of the eligibility criteria and terms of the Purina BetterwithPets Prize and, based on its description, I am eligible to apply:

  • Yes, I’m eligible
  • Yes, I’m 18 years old or older

Should you be successful, please confirm your availability to attend:

  • Additional Skype interview(s) during the week of March 16-20th 2020
  • The Purina BetterwithPets Forum in Paris, on 3-4th of June 2020

Initiative's representative name

Patricia Dubois Zanini

Initiative's representative date of birth


Initiative's representative gender

  • Woman

Headquarters location: country

  • Italy

Headquarters location: city

Dog4Life, via Libertà 17 Meda 20821 (MB) Italy

Where are you making a difference?

Dog4Life Grosseto ( Tuscany) (Centro cinofilo X-plorer Montorsaio)

Website or social media url(s)

www.dog4life.it www.dog4liftoscana.com/en https://www.facebook.com/Dog4LifeTuscany/ https://www.instagram.com/dog4lifetuscany/ https://plus.google.com/u/0/b/106755946796804819762/106755946796804819762 http://twitter.com/Dog4LifeToscanaqa

Date Started

Dog4life non profit org. was founded in 2003

Focus Areas

  • Promote inclusivity
  • Re-imagining the role of pets in society
  • assistance dogs for persons with disabilities- traing of dog handlers for pet Therapy

What is your current yearly budget for the initiative? If you are an idea stage, what early budget you would need to kick-off and run operations in your first year?

  • €100k - €250k

Organisation Type

  • nonprofit/NGO: an organisation that uses its resources to achieve a purpose outside of creating profit

1. Founding story: Share a story about the "Aha!" moment that led the founder(s) to get started or the story of how you saw the potential for this project to succeed.

In 2003 a group of dog trainers and handlers decide to invent a new protocol to train Assistance Dogs. By modeling the disabled person needs with the dog at age 5 months it created a excellent bond and the quality of the assistance the dog was able to provide was quite impressive by doing so the disabled person acquired so much experience to become himself a dog handler. In 2004 Dog4Life started a program at The Niguarda Hospital in Milan to help improve and speed the recovery of young people with spinal cord injuries through the intervention of pet therapy dogs. Since then Dog4LIfe mission to implement , develop and expand the "human-dog bond as a form to provide well being " . Our clients are , schools, hospitals, rehab centers, daycare .

2. The problem: What problem are you helping to solve?

The main purpose of Dog4Life is to help disabled persons in order for them to enjoy a better quality of life , a bigger level of autonomy and a more enjoyable social life with the continuous help of a well trained Dogs. We would love to help the social inclusion of children with cognitive , emotional disorders or autism. With the help of our dogs we really can help develop social skills through the example of our trained dogs.

3. Your solution: How are you planning to solve this problem? Share your specific approach.

Dog4Life proposes a project for families with children with cognitive/ emotional disorders and autism. With the help of our highly trained dogs and handlers and a team of experts, Dog4Life proposes to help the social inclusion of these children. - Create a center for children with the mentioned above disabilities - Offer Pet Therapy sessions to children with cognitive/ emotional/ disorders , these children have no access to this type of benefic activities because of the low income of their families. - The triangulation Dog-Child- Handler will help those children to be able to develop their social skills -The sessions will enhance self esteem, the work done with dogs teaches the children to respect others, to be patients , to raise the level of empathy. - Through the sensory program, the children will learn to know the surrounding sensations and how to behave, the dogs will accompany them during this program as mentors, example being always there and never judging them. -Create a data base that effectively proved the positive effects of Pet Therapy dog on children with the mentioned disabilities. - Raise the public awareness on the difficulties of social inclusion.

4. Innovation: How are you innovating or using unique approaches to solve the problem?

Since many years Dog4Life works in Lombardy with children with autism, in Tuscany we have noticed that the public structures offers only traditional methods , only some private structure not affordable for everyone offer the possibility of Pet Therapy programs. Our experience has clearly demonstrated the benefit of Pet Therapy for these children , especially in the area of socialization. So the idea to offer these activities at a very reasonable cost came as a project, still we need to have a budget to start with. Locally no other organisation has the skills to offer this kind of program and the number of children diagnosed with autism is showing a growth in Tuscany.

5. How does your project harness the pet-human bond to help people develop important social competencies (For example: emotional intelligence, collaboration, empathy, resilience, inclusivity) and overcome serious societal issues (for example: violence, abuse, trauma, isolation, abandonment)?

This project totally harness the pet-human bond to help children with cognitive/ emotional disorders and autism to develop important social skills and in doing so, avoiding exclusion, mobbing, bullying. By reinforcing and developing social skills in these children through Pet Therapy sessions, it is possible to give them a better future. By age 18 young adults with autism spectrum, down syndrome, severe attention disorders, eating disorders are mostly abandoned by our society and the weight and frustration is left to the families. Our program should help to avoid these situation, to find a job is easier if you have some social skills and people of your community have been made aware of your struggle. Some of these children may even choose to become a dog trainer, a dog groomer, a dog sitter. Our project is also designed to give the families with disabled children a certain relief of the burden of the way our society is (disabled are not even considered in many jobs), we have experienced the joy these kids express during pet therapy sessions and how happy they are to come and participate, that is a great help for the parents. The non judgemental behavior of dogs is our key to succes

6. Impact: how has your project made a difference so far in terms of both business outputs and social impact? How do you plan on measuring progress?

We funded a program with 9 children with autism for 12 months, some of the children, mostly teenagers were afraid of dogs, some were severely autistic, non verbal with many stereotypies, nevertheless, we have registered benefits for each one of them. Some have learn to be more patients, some to develop some social skills noticeable at school, some have had fewer or shorter episodes of stereotypies, some are non longer afraid of dogs and able to teach others how to approach a dog safely. Some have decided to continue these sessions privately, paying the sessions with their own money, some could not because of the low income. We are constantly trying to find funds to continue our mission. We monitored each of our sessions with video, we have a child psychotherapist and a language therapist to supervise us every months or when situations required it. We have data for a research on this .

7. Growth strategies: what are your main strategies for scaling your impact?

The idea is to raise awareness with the local press, the schools and specialized day care centers. We intend to train at least 3 more dog handlers and their dogs, enroll some experts for education and job trainings for young adults with disabilities, in fact our program will includes clients with more than 18 years. As a non profit organization we can only finance ourselves through donations , events and sale of our gadgets. We hope that the raised awareness will give us the opportunity to finance this program for a longer period of time. People in Tuscany are sensible to charity and donation

8. Creating shared value: How does your initiative create value for different stakeholders?

In Grosseto our city in Tuscany , we belong to group of Non profit organizations called il mosaico del volontariato, so we all share our experiences and help each other raising money, many of these associations are involved with disability and also children disability, such a project as Mi Fido di Te would be an extra bonus for the local community . Not only for a continuous number of clients but also to raise public awareness. We have seen in this 12 months of program how important our sessions of Pet Therapy were for the children , the families and other organizations . We are a fairly small reality but we know how great the impact of Pet- Human interactions are benefic on a short and long term and especially for the social inclusion.

9. Financial sustainability plan: can you tell us about your plan to fund your project and how that plan will be sustainable in the short, medium, and long term?

We need to have fund to start the project in better conditions, having the appropriate rooms for the pet therapy sessions, the funds to pay experts to be our supervisors , to pay our work and the material we need , to pay the care of our dogs. As we have experienced it, offering all this for free is a big mistake , even with a small amount of money families have to participate at the cost of this project even in a very small part. We hope that the diffusion of our work and the press releases will help us to continue financing this project, as well as the training of new handlers who could help us to grow. Mainly our income are from donations , so having a proper place to implement this project would already guaranty a longer term .

10. Team: what is the current composition of your team (types of roles, qualifications, full-time vs. part-time, board members, etc.), and how do you plan to evolve the team’s composition as the project grows?

Our team is locally small but strong, we all have years of experience. Technical Director, Child Psychotherapist expert in Autism, project manager, dog handlers, educator, volunteers and obviously our 4 pawed therapists. A dream team would be to add at least 3 dog handlers and dogs, a veterinary, a part time receptionist. This could be done also in other region of Italy since our organization is nationwide. the possibility of creating a special center would give us a growth possibility .

11. How do you plan to influence your field of work if you are a winner of this edition of the Purina BetterwithPets Prize?

By having a proper Animal Assisted Activities" center in the city, we could really serve many more clients, having proper rooms to make fruitful pet therapy sessions would be a great success, if people know that there is a place, nice and safe where their children are put in the best position to feel at ease , happy and like any other children ( because that is how the dogs see them) they will be more than willing to help us. We could easily choose qualified people to be trained as dog handlers, these handlers would receive special training ( we did it at our own expenses) The publication of the collected data would definitely give a big impulse of the use of animal assisted activities with children with these disorders or autism.

12. How did you hear about this challenge?

  • Social media
  • Word-of-mouth

13. Example: Please walk us through one or two concrete examples of how your solution will solve the problem you’re trying to address.

Imagine a child with cognitive disabilities or autism who can bring a pet therapy dog in his class room and teach his class mates who they should behave around dogs, teach a dog to do tricks, to read a book to a dog, how to groom a dog, to walk a dog on leash in the city. That is what we want to achieve with each child with cognitive disabilities teaching; being the center of the class attention, this is a powerful tool against bullying. (experience already done) Each beneficiary will have a tailored pet therapy program. I am currently working with an 8 years old girl with Asperger syndrome, she was terrified of dogs, through a special "reading dog" program, a week ago she gave my dog a cookie directly from her hand. An non verbal autistic child said his first word to the dog as he wanted the dog to do some agility exercise, to emphasize his body language he shouted "jump" first word ever said at 6 ! In our many years of experience we do have so many success stories we could share.

14. Mutual Benefit: Explain how your project mutually benefits the pets involved – how is the pet not only used as tool?

Our ethical standards are the ADI (assistance dog international) we are candidate members of this association and I can really assure that our dogs are always having a super good time, sessions face to face are 30 minutes, for each child we do take an hour, that is because we always want our dogs to relax, go out have a run, catch a ball, when the program is well under way we do go out with the children with cognitive disability and the mix between freedom , joy and responsibility is quite a pleasure to watch. Our policy is always "the well-being of your dog first". We do have a protocol to be followed before any animal assisted activity. 30 minutes walk, play - pet therapy session-15 minutes walk play - after 2 hours another 30 minutes walk and play , no more than 3 hours a day per dog. After Pet therapy sessions, comes cuddle sessions, we do emphasize quite a lot the importance of "Dog-Handler" bond. In my profile picture, my dog after 2 hours in hospital in oncology.

15. Marketplace: Who else is addressing this problem in your environment? How does your proposed project differ from these other approaches?

There are different associations working in this field in the Grosseto area, none of them is working with dogs. Some are organizing soccer tournaments, not always a good idea for children with autism, some are organizing theater lessons with a certain success except for non verbal kids, some are organizing music therapy but very few are really touching the relationship and acceptance of the disability. We still do work in a very strong collaboration oriented environment. Dogs are incredible vehicles, it is indeed a new approach but the success are so evident that you cannot ignore it. the combination of pet therapy in a center and raising awareness at school is quite successful. Not only in Grosseto Dog4Life has these programs but also in Bergamo and Milan, as you can see from our official website (www.dog4life.it) .The importance of our programs is to help making a change , in a small town it is not always easy but a challenging task it is!

16. Tell us about how collaborations and partnerships would enhance the scalability and impact of your project.

We have a strong partnership with the IronMamme, an association of parents of autistic children, RSD il Sole- Uscita di Sicurezza, a program for young people with phsychiatric disorders, CDD il mare, CDD l' Aquilone , children and young adults with cognitive disabilities …These partners have always supported our activities, unfortunately money is always an handicap and we cannot and never will provide our services for free , sometimes it is difficult to understand … The Ironmamme would love to have access for a modest cost to a weekly sessions of pet therapy for their over 45 children, Our collaboration with CDD il Mare and CDD l'Aquilone are yearly renewed and very successful, the video has been shot with these beneficiaries. We are offering our services also to children with Down syndrome (AIPD), ( AIMuSe) selective mutism and children with attention disorders who are referred to us from schools, speech therapists and other associations . (see mosaic del volontariato)

17. Awards & Recognitions: What awards or recognitions, if any, has the project received so far?

In December 2019, Dog4Life has been nominated and awarded as the most popular association, based on a votes contest organized by the local newspaper il Tirreno, December 23, 2019

18. Your Self-Elevator Pitch (OPTIONAL): Share a 1-minute video that shares a quick summary of the problem you would like to solve, how you’ve chosen to solve it, and the impact you hope to see.

The exciting part of our job is that in whatever way you do , your dog and you always win. Some children react very quickly and you can observe the benefits and so can the family , some other kids are not so much interested but at the end of the day , when you observe the interactions with other kids you see that a good job has been done. Let me reassure you, I am not a magician but dogs and kids have a way to communicate that adults have lost. It is amazing to observe.

19. Financial Sustainability (OPTIONAL): Please tell us more about how you plan to fund and scale your project, include an attached document with your detailed business plan or other equivalent information. (This information will NOT be shared with your fellow contestant, it will only be visible to you and internal Prize reviewers).

Our source of funding comes from donations, special events , sale of gadgets and sponsorship. When it comes to similar programs as mentioned above we do ask parents to participate with a modest amount of money to the expenses, we are convinced that completely free programs are not valued by the beneficiaries. There is a gap between what we have as an annual budget and the need of the children with cognitive disabilities. Basically we need funds to rent a proper place dedicated to those kids and our activities € 1000 per month, we need funds to buy good didactic materiel to work with,€ 10.000 to pay a salary to our handlers( 5 handlers 3 hours a week each € 4800 per Month and other professional figures €1200). To be able to have furniture for a proper setting€15.000. To organize a waiting room with a secretary,€ 8000 to train other handlers € 9000, to organize meetings in local schools to raise awareness, € 15.000. To launch a program for 24 months for 40 to 50 children: € 280.000

Evaluation results

4 evaluations so far

1. OVERALL Evaluation

Yes, absolutely! - 50%

Yes/maybe - 50%

Maybe - 0%

Maybe/no - 0%

No - 0%

2. Is this entry INNOVATIVE?

Yes, absolutely! - 0%

Yes/maybe - 25%

Maybe - 75%

Maybe/no - 0%

No - 0%

3. Does this entry have SOCIAL IMPACT?

Yes, absolutely! - 75%

Yes/maybe - 25%

Maybe - 0%

Maybe/no - 0%

No - 0%

4. Does this entry have potential to GROW & demonstrate LEADERSHIP?

Yes, absolutely! - 0%

Yes/maybe - 75%

Maybe - 25%

Maybe/no - 0%

No - 0%

5. Is this entry VIABLE?

Yes, absolutely! - 25%

Yes/maybe - 75%

Maybe - 0%

Maybe/no - 0%

No - 0%


Yes, absolutely! - 25%

Yes/maybe - 75%

Maybe - 0%

Maybe/no - 0%

No - 0%

7. FEEDBACK – Highlights

INNOVATION: You have a great understanding of the problem, have researched existing solutions, and have developed unique, thoughtful new solutions or used an old model in a new way - 50%

IMPACT: You use specific numbers and evidence to describe what your project has achieved so far (or plan to achieve in the future) and you have a plan for measuring impact - 100%

GROWTH & LEADERSHIP POTENTIAL: You have a thoughtful plan for growth and your founding team has a strong combination of leadership and knowledge-based skills - 50%

VIABIBLITY: You have given a great deal of thought to not just the idea itself but how to make it work from a financial perspective in the present and future - 100%

CHANGEMAKING ACTIVATION: You value thinking around how to activate changemakers and empower them to innovate through your product or programming - 50%

POTENTIAL TO CREATE SHARED VALUE: You have a clearly defined plan on how to maximize shared value across multiple sectors and stakeholders - 0%

WRITING STYLE: Your writing style is concise, descriptive, clear, and specific - 50%

Other option - 0%

8. FEEDBACK - Areas for Improvement

INNOVATION: Be more specific in your description of the research you have done into the past solutions to this problem and focus on how your solution is unique and innovative - 0%

IMPACT: Provide specific instances of your social impact and how you plan to measure impact – it may be helpful to describe the beneficiaries, products and programming, and provide evidence of (or plan for) how to measure impact - 0%

GROWTH & LEADERSHIP POTENTIAL: Your plan for growing the organization can benefit from more specifics. How can you round out the various skills of your current leadership team to make the project a long-term success? - 100%

VIABILITY: Make sure you have provided descriptive information about your financial sustainability plan. Where do the funds come from now and do you have a concrete plan for future sustainability? - 100%

POTENTIAL TO CREATE SHARED VALUE: Your plan can benefit from more thought on how to create value for all stakeholders, not just immediate beneficiaries - 100%

WRITING STYLE: Try to be more concise, descriptive, clear, and specific. Avoid jargon - 0%

Nothing – I thought everything was great! - 100%

Other option - 0%


Join the conversation:

Photo of Lapis Cristina

Animals can help people with autism interact socially, decrease feelings of loneliness, anxiety and depression. It is not something new, but for sure it is something very helpful for that children and young adults. They need pets in their lives!

Photo of Patricia Dubois Zanini

Our organization has a long experience , especially with autistic children , we do have completed many programs over the years in different daycare centers with children with cognitive disabilities.  We have daily empiric proofs of how great it works and this basically because the dog is absolutely non judgmental and it facilitates a direct connexion.