Sofia Boughton and Gyla

Tuesday , March 18, 2014 - 12:39 PM

Young Sofia's parents decided their daughter needed a dog -- but not just any dog.

Not a jumpy, excitable plow-you-over kind of dog. Not a gotta-play-every-minute dog. Not even a sweet and squirmy little puppy.

No, what this West Haven 6-year-old needed was a skilled companion dog, and that's exactly who she received, in a bundle of yellow fur and brown eyes known as Gyla.

Gyla -- pronounced "Gee-la" -- is trained to work with Bruce and Carolina Boughton's developmentally delayed daughter, who was matched with the Canine Companions for Independence dog in May 2011.

The Labrador retriever/golden retriever cross can pick up dropped items or simply snuggle with this little girl who isn't able to speak and needs assistance to walk.

"(Gyla) has given us lots of opportunities to give (Sofia) some real responsibilities, like feeding her; she loves to feed her," says father Bruce Boughton, who is the dog's official handler.

But having Gyla also benefits Sofia in nonphysical ways, her father says, like expanding the child's world by helping her focus on the feelings of another living being.

And Gyla helps increase Sofia's social interactions with others. Folks may be uncomfortable approaching a child with disabilities who cannot talk, but Bruce Boughton says the dog -- everybody loves a dog -- bridges that gap.

"Gyla provides that reason to come up and say 'Hi' to Sofia," he says.

Carolina Boughton says when her daughter becomes frustrated at not being able to express her emotions, petting Gyla's soft fur offers a calming influence.

"With Gyla being the lady that she is ... she's very, very patient with Sofia; she's very gentle, she's loyal," the mother says.

The Boughtons learned about Canine Companions when Bruce met a puppy raiser and her dog at an Ogden coffee shop. After the couple met some of the otherdogs in training and saw their demeanor, "we were on board just right away," Carolina Boughton says.

The family, including Sofia and her 10-year-old brother Mateo, went through training together at the Canine Companions facility in Oceanside, Calif.

Sofia is becoming more interested in her skilled companion dog all of the time, Bruce Boughton says. The 6-year-old loves to pet her dog and can now throw the ball a few times for Gyla to fetch it. On a recent morning when she woke up, Sofia signed in American Sign Language that she wanted her dog.

"You can just see that gradual connection just kind of expand and grow more," Carolina Boughton says.

Bruce Boughton says he dreams of a day when Sofia and Gyla will bond even more closely: "Maybe they can sleep together in the bed, maybe they can play together," he says.

Or maybe one day, Sofia will be able to assume responsibility as the dog's handler, the father says. "I would love for that (to happen)."

For now, it's wonderful to "see those sparks of magic start to happen," the father says.

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