Friday, 14 December 2018
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Superior Elementary piloting therapy dog program, Boulder Prep training rescue as therapy dog

Pepper, a gentle 10-year-old Portuguese water dog, recently made the rounds at Superior Elementary School, letting enthusiastic students pet his fluffy coat and give him kisses.

Pepper, a regular at the 400-student school, stayed still and calm even as student on the autism spectrum grabbed more than petted.

“He’s a people dog,” said his owner, Wendy Shefte. “I wanted to share him.”

Superior was the first Boulder Valley school to start a therapy dog program, starting the full program last school year.

The program is still in the pilot phase, with Principal Jenn Bedford hopeful Superior can pave the way for other district schools to join in future years.

“It’s been phenomenal and positive,” she said. “It just feels good when the dogs come in to the school, for the kids and for the staff. It just changes the whole feeling of the school.”

About a dozen volunteer handlers brought their dogs to visit the school last school year. Dogs also visited the school’s summer library program.

The school works with Therapy Dogs of Boulder County, which coordinates the volunteer dog handlers and ensures all the dogs are certified, up-to-date on their shots and insured.

“They have to be well behaved,” said Daryl Holle, Therapy Dogs of Boulder County’s executive director. “It’s safe.”


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Bedford said she proposed bringing therapy dogs to the school as a way to provide social and emotional support to students.

While it took time to work through all the district’s requirements and concerns, she said, it’s well worth it.

“The biggest issue is making sure the kids are safe and the dogs are safe,” she said. “Working with Therapy Dogs of Boulder County, it’s not just the neighbor’s dog coming in. They’re all certified.”

The school’s counselor also does training with the students before the dogs come in, giving them pointers that include asking permission before petting a new dog, how to greet a dog and to pet gently, not poke.

Visiting dogs will make the rounds to classrooms, including the school’s special education classrooms.

“When kids are really having a bad day and they have time with a dog, their whole body relaxes,” Bedford said. “You can just see some of that anxiety subside.”

The school also pairs specific students who need support with a dog.

Last fall, for example, Pepper spent time every other week with a first-grader who really didn’t want to come to school.

“That was all it took to help that student,” Bedford said. “It gave her something to look forward to.”

Then there’s Archie, a red lab, who became the unofficial mascot of the fifth grade and came to the end-of-year picnic.

“They just become part of the school,” Bedford said.

Fifth-grader Millie Barber said she likes to read to the therapy dogs.

“It’s really fun to get to know them,” she said. “It lets out all my stress.”

Classmate Elizabeth Marsella said it gives students without dogs at home a chance to make a canine friend. Plus, she said, “it helps people when they’re sad.”

For fifth-grader Ben Lehman, the dogs can help with a tough day of math.

“They help you calm down, and it’s fun to see them around the school,” he said. “I love having them here.”

Along with Superior Elementary, a second Boulder Valley school is using a therapy dog to support its students.

Boulder Prep, a charter high school in Gunbarrel that serves many at-risk students, added a therapy dog in training a few weeks ago.

Regina Morris, the school’s learning diversity coordinator , adopted Story, a gregarious 2-year-old female boxer, through Colorado’s Ho-Bo Care Boxer Rescue. Story, who was found running on a highway, lives with Morris when school isn’t in session.

The school wanted a boxer because that’s Boulder Prep’s mascot, while Story’s small size at about 45 pounds and name both appealed. Boulder Prep starts each school day with students sharing stories.

Morris said she volunteered to be Story’s guardian because she had the required 6-foot fenced yard. Plus, she already had a dog, her kids wanted a second one and she had previous therapy dog experience.

“A dog can be very therapeutic,” she said. “Dogs have a calming effect.”

Now that she’s familiar with the “chaos” of a school, Story is working on basic obedience skills with a local trainer, including learning to sit and stay, not jump and not steal food from the students or snag a snack from a trash can.

“Being a puppy, she gets very excited,” Morris said. “I have to train the students what not to do, too.”

Junior Phoenix Arnold, who lives on a ranch and whose family has 11 dogs, said she was thrilled that Story is now part of the school.

“Dogs are a big comfort to me,” she said.

Classmate Michelle Svetlik said students who need to calm down or need stress relief can take some time with the dog.

“Having a dog here keeps my spirits high,” she said.

She added that she likes that the school chose a rescue dog that’s in training.

“We get to learn from her and she gets to learn from us,” she said. “She gets to have all of us love her.”

Amy Bounds: 303-473-1341, boundsa@dailycamera.com or twitter.com/boundsa

Source: http://www.dailycamera.com/news/boulder/ci_32172798/superior-elementary-piloting-therapy-dog-program-boulder-prep

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