No bones about it, dog going to school
Roger will be attending school sometime soon in Minneota. But the four-year-old is not going to class to learn. Instead, he will be in the classroom for another reason. You see, Roger is not your typical student. He's a Corgi mix dog who was adopted two years ago by Caryn Hetland, who is a Sped Paraprofessional at the school for the last 17 years. And Roger was recently approved to be the elementary school's "therapy dog". "We had to complete the paperwork before we could bring Roger in," said Elementary Principal Jen Mahan-Deitte.
"Roger came into the school a few times last year as our 'guest reader' (for I Love to Read month) and the results were incredible. The kids really responded well to him." Roger has still visited the kid since then, but not used as an official therapy dog.
"The staff kind of all joked about him becoming our therapy dog and it just went from there to a real thing," said Hetland. An application was reviewed by an alternative review committee.
"Since there are no testers in our area, we did it a little differently," Hetland noted. "I was allowed to assign an approved test proctor and we went from there.”
"The staff and kids are super excited. I told some of the kids (Sept. 30) after I received the official email of his acceptance … nothing but smiles and cheers."
There are still a few details to iron out before Roger begins attending school in his official capacity. "We haven't figured out his schedule yet, but that will be done soon," Hetland said.
"He will have a job to do, but he also will have some down time.” "After some research, as well as advice from another therapy dog handler, we decided to go with Alliance Therapy of Dogs.
It took a little longer for him to get certified as we needed to take the non-traditional route." Therapy dogs have been used extensively in senior living facilities for many years. More recently, they have been used in classrooms to help children with autism, and to aid and comfort students following school tragedies.
Now their uses in classrooms are expanding even more. These are some of the benefits of having therapy dogs in a classroom: Interaction with therapy dogs has been shown to reduce blood pressure, provide physical stimulation and assist with pain management.
A visiting therapy dog promotes greater self-esteem and focused interaction with other students and teachers. Through close observation, it has been proven that therapy dogs stimulate memory and problem-solving skills.
A therapy dog can lift moods in the classroom, often provoking laughter. The therapy dog is also there to offer friendship. While therapy dogs have a calming effect and reduce stress levels in most students, children with disabilities can present a unique challenge.
Because of the wide range of intensity, behaviors can be unpredictable.
"We had a child last year that had multiple breakdowns and Caryn brought Roger in to work with the child," said Mahan-Deitte. "And the response was tremendous."
And because the classroom can be a stressful time in a student's day due to social challenges and peer pressure, therapy dogs can reduce the effect of some children with autism to feel more at ease and open to social behavior. Studies have shown that children with autism are more social when playing with therapy dogs as opposed to toys.
"We've been talking about getting a therapy dog for about a year," said Mahan-Deitte. "We're looking forward to Roger coming in to work with the kids."
The school will pay for insurance costs, as well any veterinary bills while he lives with Hetland. Hetland has provided a foster home for abandoned or injured canines for several years. "Roger came to my home in 2017 as a foster from Tracy Area Animal Rescue," she explained.
"He was picked up as a stray in Worthington and was going to be euthanized by his previous owners. So that is where the rescue came in to play."
Hetland said she knew right away that there was something very special about Roger, so she ended up adopting him as her own. "He has not needed much training, but what he does know came from him and I working together," said Hetland.
"We often visit the nursing home, elderly friends, as well as coming with me to school sometimes." Because of Roger's previous visits the last year or so as a "guest reader" and visitor, the staff and students are familiar with him.
"The kids know him by name and often holler out to him when we are out walking around town," Hetland said. “He has a certain something that I can't explain. He seems to have an intuitive sense of those needing a little comfort. It's crazy, but he really does."
Unlike some students, Roger gets a charge out of going to school. "He waits in the morning to see if I'm going to grab his leash," Hetland revealed. "Then he knows he is going (to school)."