GOOD HOPE, Ala. – On Tuesday, Good Hope Primary School (GHP) welcomed Alliance of Therapy Dogs (ATD) trainer Paula Kretzschmar and handler Dena York, along with the school’s two newest therapists: Standard Poodle Luke and English Setter Adi (short for “Adrenaline,” a lively one!). The dogs and their handlers visited kids in one classroom before being introduced to the entire student body at an afternoon assembly. The visit officially kicked off a partnership between ATD and GHP in a pilot program that could lead to the use of therapy dogs in other area schools.
Before the schoolwide gathering, GHP Principal Tonya Cupp told The Tribune, “We have consulted with the Alliance of Therapy Dogs, and we are excited to bring them in for an assembly to teach our students about safety with dogs and how to approach dogs, and how to pet the dogs correctly.
“We’re going to have the volunteers to come in as often as possible, and they’re going to meet with some of our students individually, for rewards and just for some therapy. They’re going to go into classrooms and read with the whole group of students. So, we’re so excited to have them, and we’re looking forward to what’s going to happen and how it’s going to impact our students. We’ve sent home permission slips, and we are just excited to see the result and the impact it’s going to have with our students.”
All students who will interact with the dogs must bring a signed permission slip from home first, in accordance with system policy.
Why therapy dogs?
A paper published at Georgia Southern University (https://files.eric.ed.gov/fulltext/EJ1173578.pdf), based on data from 2001-2017 and released in 2017, stated:
“In our analysis, three categories of therapeutic benefit emerged: a) increased reading and language skills, b) social, emotional, and humane gains, and c) improved gross motor skills. Numerous studies have found that literacy skills can be improved from reading to dogs and that children gain confidence in reading and report an increased love of reading . . . Therapy dogs can also provide stability and comfort to children who are living in poverty or abusive homes. Caring for a classroom animal teaches responsibility, builds confidence, and gives children a sense of pride and accomplishment.”
The various other studies reviewed by the authors noted benefits like:
- “Students’ attitudes toward school improved.”
- “Students found companionship with the dog.”
- “Students used the dog to remain in control of their emotions and behaviors in order to prevent them from entering emotional crisis.”
- “Students used the dog as a de-escalation tool to calm their minds and bodies when they did enter into emotional crisis.”
- “Students’ learning was extended by fostering growth in respect, responsibility, and empathy.”
- “When the therapy dog is present, ‘the whole feeling of the classroom is calmer.’”
- “Animals in counseling sessions and the classroom facilitate an atmosphere of trust, nurturance, and relationship building.”
In its conclusion, the study’s authors added, “There is strong support for increased confidence, literacy skills and actual reading scores when children read to dogs. Additionally, much evidence supports the emotional and social benefits of children interacting with a dog in the classroom.”
ATD certifies dogs and handlers through a combination of testing and observation of dog/handler teams to determine the personality of the dog, relationship of dog and handler and how well the dog performs in actual work in various types of facilities. According to its website, the all-volunteer organization provides free therapy dog services to “including but not limited to airports, nursing homes, assisted living facilities, rehab facilities, mental health institutions, schools, hospitals, cancer centers, hospice facilities, college campuses and can also provide therapy in patients’ homes.” In addition to its certification, ATD requires dogs be up to date on vaccines and medical exams. Once a dog/handler team meets the organization’s standards, it can be insured for issues that might arise during service.
The ATD team working with GHP is the same group of volunteers who recently began providing services to the Cullman County Courthouse (See www.cullmantribune.com/2019/10/16/cullman-courts-going-to-the-dogs-again/).
The team includes:
- Paula Kretzschmar with Luke and Louie
- Dena York with Adi and Rip
- Deb Schmidt with Millie
- Jennifer Cruise with Bailey
- Katie Cruise with Mississippi
Cullman County School Superintendent Dr. Shane Barnette attended the assembly and met the team Tuesday at GHP.
He told The Tribune, “We’re extremely excited about piloting this program at Good Hope Primary, and we’re looking forward to the day that we can expand this program and have enough dogs where we can expand it to all of our schools, especially our elementary schools. We’ve got a lot of needs that many of us don’t even understand yet, but having a therapy dog for kids to relate to and so forth, I think will be beneficial to us.”
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