An Unlikely School Employee

. August 31, 2019.

Therapy dogs bring needed support to students

Teachers and staff members work hard to ensure that students have the help they need during the school year. Sometimes, however, it takes an unlikely school employee to help students. Therapy dogs are being used more in schools to address students’ emotional needs.

Unlike service dogs, which are trained to perform specific tasks in order to help someone with a disability, therapy dogs work to help with emotional needs of people in schools, hospitals and other settings. The dogs’ presence can create a calming effect on humans.

Devin and Sara’s story

One young boy who has benefited greatly from a therapy dog is Devin, a Blissfield 5th grader.

Devin has autism, ADHD, and anxiety. His therapy dog, Sara, helps him stay calm in upsetting situations, which in turn helps to keep him safe. Prior to receiving Sara, Devin had run into traffic trying to get away from loud noises or large crowds. It was after those scary incidents when his mother decided to research therapy dogs.

Unfortunately therapy dogs are very expensive and it can take a long time to arrange to have one trained and placed in a home. Devin’s family was put on a waiting list for two years. Last spring he reached the top of the list. To help offset the costs, Devin’s teacher Nicole Lundquist put together a fundraising effort at the school. Lundquist explained, “On the day of the event, money from all the students began to pour in. Many donations had notes attached from students that told why they felt it was so special to donate…When it was time to count the donations, it was clear that we had surpassed the goal.”

Whitmer High School’s future addition

Other area schools are also working to bring therapy dogs to their facilities. Whitmer High School recently finished raising funds to help pay for a therapy dog. Washington Local Schools currently has two therapy dogs in the elementary schools who come to visit classes, help to soothe students who need some time to decompress, and teach students how to care for a companion properly.

Katie Peters, a Whitmer High School teacher and therapy dog handler, said a therapy dog at the high school works with teens in ways that are similar to how the dogs work with younger children.

“High school students come to us facing struggles and hardships at home. It has been proven that interacting with a therapy dog for five minutes can lower blood pressure, diminish physical and emotional pain and release endorphins that have a calming effect that relaxes the student. Students who are ‘in the zone’ with a dog are much more likely to open up and ask for the help they need.”

Whitmer High School applied in February for a therapy dog and has been approved by the Assistance Canine Training Services of New Hampshire. With the help of Meyers Auto Wash, the school was able to raise $10,000 to cover the cost of the dog, supplies and training. Additionally West Toledo Animal Hospital volunteered to help with the canine’s care.

The school is currently waiting for the agency to find a dog that matches the school’s needs and will, hopefully, receive their therapy dog this fall. The community response has been very supportive. For students that have allergies or might be afraid of dogs, counselors will be informed and the dog will be kept away from those students.

Peters, who will be the dog’s handler, will be required to then go to New Hampshire for a week long training. Once Peters has the dog, her classroom will be its home base. While she is teaching, one of four other trained faculty members can walk the dog through the hallways and take it to other classrooms to meet with students. Additionally, the dog will attend many events in the community throughout the year.