This month’s Guest Blogger is Mary Cariola Children’s Center Special Education Teacher, Jean Peyton. Jean recently received her certification as a professional dog trainer and is instrumental in making our therapy dog program a success.
If you happen to be walking the halls of Mary Cariola Children’s Center school, don’t be surprised to see some four legged friends sharing the hallway with you. Animals have long been recognized as being a positive force when brought into multiple therapeutic environments. Specifically, dogs have a calming and therapeutic effect. They help people cope with emotional issues, physical disabilities and complex medical conditions like those we see here at Mary Cariola Children’s Center.
Service dogs are trained to provide specific support for individuals with disabilities such as visual or hearing difficulties, seizure disorders, and mobility challenges just to mention a few. The role of therapy dogs is to react and respond to people and their environment, under the guidance and direction of their handler.
In both preschool and school age classrooms and therapy suites it is very common to see our dogs in action, and they work very hard. Our furry colleagues carry out a number of duties such as laying on a student’s lap to provide proprioceptive input, picking up toys/puzzle pieces and handing them to students, pulling students on scooter boards, holding writing utensils to “draw” while the student is also drawing, and much more! It’s wonderful to see the interaction between our students and the therapy dogs. While the goal is to assist in therapy, you can’t help seeing the smiles on the faces of everyone around the dogs. Students are not the only people our therapy dogs help. They are also here for staff when they 'need a moment' during or at the end of the day. They also help at counseling sessions, arrival and dismissal by helping get kids to/from their bus. They are hard workers and everyone loves them.
The therapy dogs who are part of the team at Mary Cariola are owned by either staff or volunteers. However, not just any dog can come in and be a therapy dog. A great deal of training goes into becoming a therapy dog and a handler. Upon completing training courses and being “offered” the job, they begin working with students and staff through a deliberate and detailed process. Therapy dogs can be of any breed and it may not have been planned to train them from birth, we do have one dog that was in fact bred specifically for the job.
For the canine team at Cariola, it’s not all work and no play. Each dog has a specific schedule during the day and when they are not working you will find them relaxing in someone’s office, sleeping in their beds or playing with their toys. While the therapy dogs may not earn a paycheck, the services they provide to our students and staff are invaluable, and of course they know exactly which office occupants might have some treats just for them.
So next time you visit school, say hello to these important staff members, just talk to the handler first as you will need to know guidelines for interaction so they can do their jobs.