"How many of you do not have a dog?" asked Marianne Barry, a Therapy Dog Handler. "Raise your hand if you do not have a dog? Guess what? You do have a dog. You have a school dog and his name is Jake."
Therapy dogs is something that Northville Public Schools has wanted to dip our toe in for a while but we also wanted to make sure that we were doing in a way that is sustainable. So this year we are excited to introduce and pilot our therapy dog program in our elementary's. The mastermind behind the therapy dog program at NPS is Executive Director of Special Services, Beth Santer. "We have four handlers that will cover six buildings, we have two handlers that will do two buildings. They are each going to be in a building for three hours a week, two 1.5 hour sessions. They will work with the principal of that building to determine the best time to have the therapy dogs in that building," said Beth Santer.
"I have always loved dogs. I've always had a dog and never had the right dog to become a therapy dog but when we got Jake I started thinking that he might have the qualities for that. And so we started on our mission of going through training together and then Jake got certified," Ms. Barry explains. "Since I had worked for Northville Public Schools for 20 years, I thought it would be great to give back to the school system by bringing Jake as a therapy dog and getting other therapy dogs to go to schools as well."
Ms. Santer said one of the reasons why we've had so many staff that have wanted therapy dogs for so many years is because we understand the health and mindfulness and health and well-being pieces of having therapy dogs in buildings. We know that it helps with kid's anxiety, it's definitely something that brings joy in general and so that was something we were interested in as part of our SEL (Social Emotional Learning) work.
"He might be in different situations where kids are anxious about something and he will be the calming influence that might be able to help them get over that. We are kind of open to what we're going to be doing in the schools. I'm letting the teachers develop that with my guidance and we're really trying to think outside of the box of where Jake will fit in best" said Ms. Barry.
Ms. Santer says we will be providing the pilot program through this school year and as we get more handlers we might be expanding the program into our middle and high school buildings. The school will be revisiting the program at the end of the year to touch base with our buildings to get a better understanding of the benefits they've seen, any tweaks that we may need to the program before we continue it.
We did send home an opt out form to all elementary families in case a child is allergic or afraid of dogs.