The girl was labeled a “selective mute.” Traumatized as an infant, she chose not to speak to people for seven years of her childhood. Her first words, when they came, were directed to a big, furry German shepherd who listened carefully.

The boy was autistic. Typical of that disorder, he shunned human contact and the touch of other people. When the dog approached him, he wrapped his arms around her and nuzzled his face in her side with a rare sense of safety.

The two children represent the special education students taught by the therapy team of Terri Smith and Shana. The teacher, with a strong instinct for suffering children, and the dog, with a nonjudgmental and always-forgiving nature, are this year’s recipients of a top volunteer award from the Department of Human Services, for service to DHS clients at the Pauline E. Mayer Juvenile Shelter.

Smith came into her career from a side path.

When she was 8, symptoms of dystonia became evident. The genetic neurological disease affects body movements and functions; but in the 1960s, the condition was little known and difficult to diagnose. Her parents spent much of their time and all their savings seeking medical answers. Many answers involved drugs. Those interfered with her life more than the disease, she said. By age 14, she chose to stop taking medications and lead as normal a life as possible.

Smith won a full scholarship to study art, but that discipline proved physically demanding. Now, as the disease progresses, she is creating watercolor paintings by holding the brush in her mouth. In college, she reassessed her options and changed her major to special education.

She encountered children who were “flawed,” as she was; through a great variety of problems grouped together by education systems.

She traveled to schools that were trying to mainstream these students. She worked in Oklahoma City, then Yukon, where she stayed for a long while at Skyview Elementary.

Along the way, she found children who had been placed on medication when they were 3 or 4 years old. Some needed the drugs to help them function, she recalled. Some were under the care of doctors or parents who relied on medication too quickly and easily, perhaps responding to a social trend or a catchy new product.

“The last 10 or 12 years before I retired,” Smith said, “I started seeing things I thought we had to do differently.”

She began to develop a plan that promoted positive behavior, but she needed a partner.

On lunch hours she left the classroom to visit the Pets and People shelter in Yukon. One day, there was a German shepherd pup, apparently abandoned because one of her ears didn’t stand up and scheduled for euthanasia.

Smith named her Shana, a Hebrew name meaning “gift of God,” and trained her for a year before the two were certified by Paws for Friendship, an international organization for therapy pets.

Shana understands her job. She, like the special students and the teacher with the contrary muscles, is an imperfect dog to whom the children can relate.

The 80-pound, working dog, Smith explained, treats equally children who have been hurt or betrayed.

To these children who have been patched with drugs, she talks about tags and labels. “I am not dystonia,” she tells them. “I am Terri and this is a small part of me.”

Two years ago, after 29 years teaching, Smith retired at age 52. She and Shana volunteer now where they are needed.