Therapy dogs bring emotional support
The Absecon School District recently got two new, and very popular, staff members – Skye and Hope, the official district therapy dogs.
Since the Board of Education approval in October, Skye and Hope – both certified therapy dogs – have been helping students in a variety of ways and settings in both the H.A. Marsh Elementary School and the Emma C. Attales Middle School for two to three days a week.
“The students light up when they see them in the hallway,” said Jessica Torcicollo, a guidance counselor at Emma C. Attales Middle School.
While they are often seen in the hallways, Skye, 4, and Hope, 2, both Greater Swiss mountain dogs, also can be found everywhere from classrooms, where they provide emotional support and have a calming presence, to the library, where they provide a non-judgmental ear for students practicing reading in the Silent Mentors in Literacy Education program. (S.M.I.L.E.).
“I think it builds the students confidence up reading to the dogs,” said aide Rachael Wescoat on Dec. 17.
With the elementary and middle schools being connected, it is easy for the two therapy dogs to go between the schools and interact with students — and staff for that matter. In fact, the two therapy dogs are just as popular among staff members as they are among students.
“I know I’m a lot more relaxed when they are around,” said Kevin Burns, principal of Attales Middle School.
It is a feeling shared by numerous staff members in both schools. “I think as a teacher it is calming for me,” said Stephanie Swift, a special education teacher at the middle school. The schools also have two therapy rabbits.
When Skye and Hope are not working hard, the two dogs are at home with their owner, Absecon School District Superintendent Dr. Daniel Dooley. The superintendent said he did a lot of research on dog breeds before deciding on the Greater Swiss mountain dogs, a breed that falls into the working group.
“Working dogs are eager to please,” said Dooley.
Although Skye and Hope have a lot of similarities, the two have very different personalities.
“Hope is much more alert, while Skye is really only worried about being the center of attention,” laughed Dooley. Skye’s love of attention has made him the perfect show dog, having won numerous Best of Breeds and even appearing in the Westminster Kennel Club Dog Show.
Dooley also has noticed that the two dogs each seem to attract different age groups of children. “Middle school students tend to ask for Hope and Skye is great with elementary students,” said Dooley. Either way though, if Dooley does not have a dog with him, students are not afraid to ask why. “People don’t even say hello to me, they ask where is the dog,” chuckled Dooley.
Between the elementary school and the middle school, 14 staff members have become certified to handle Skye and Hope. Dooley praised his staff for taking some time away from a recent Saturday to get certified, despite it being one of their days off and the middle of the holiday season. To Dooley, it shows the staff’s commitment to the two therapy dogs and the impact they have on the schools.