Indian Trail explores using therapy dog

A new, four-legged staff member could join the roster at Indian Trail Elementary School sometime next year if Canal Winchester Schools Superintendent Kim Miller-Smith and board members agree a furry face would benefit students.

Indian Trail Principal Bev Downing, along with Guidance Counselor Jodie Miller, presented the board with a request on Dec. 15 to introduce a counseling dog program at Indian Trail. Bexley’s Maryland Elementary School Principal Jon Hood, along with Glazier, a three-year-old retriever/Labrador mix certified therapy dog, was on hand to explain and demonstrate the advantages of the program.

"We started investigating the idea last year," said Downing, "and we kept getting more and more enthused the more we got involved. I’ve seen the dog in action at Maryland and it’s wonderful how the students interact with the animal. The dogs are trained for special needs and Glazier knows 42 different commands. Some kids have school anxiety problems and the dog helps. One little girl at Maryland would not read to anyone, but she would read to Glazier. The dog greets the kids in the morning when they arrive and they consider him the school dog."

Downing said she and Miller could employ the dog in various capacities.

"We have 830 children walk into the building every day and some of them arrive with issues unresolved from home. Jodie would use the dog for counseling and classroom visits and I would have the dog in my office when a student had a problem," said Downing. "It’s better than handing out stickers and pencils."

 "I would consider the animal part of my staff," continued Downing. "The dog is provided free of charge by Canine Companions in Delaware and there is a six-month waiting list. Canine Companions trains the dog, which is about $50,000 and maintains a $1 million liability policy on the dog. You have to apply for a dog and Canine Companions comes to the school, investigates us, and determines our needs. If Kim and board approved, we would go up to Delaware for two weeks training and be paired with a dog. The animals are very loving and soothing and calming. They don’t bark and Jodie and I would share guardianship."

Downing reported Dr. Ann Greenwald volunteered her services and, if the counseling dog program is approved, would provide free animal care for the dog and offer pet care presentations at the school.
"I’m trying to be patient because we need Kim’s and the board’s approval, but it’s hard," Downing said. "I can see so many benefits in having a counseling dog at Indian Trail. I have a great school now, but with a dog, it would be perfect."

According to Canine Companions for Independence, facility dogs are "expertly trained canines" partnered with a facilitator working in educational, health care, or visitation settings. CCI canines are trustworthy in professional environments and can perform over 40 commands designed to motivate and inspire clients with special needs.

When an animal is approximately 15 months of age, the dog attends a six month or, in some cases, nine month training course with professional instructors at the Delaware Regional Training Center. During the first two weeks, dogs are screened, undergo x-rays and medical tests, as well temperament evaluations. Some dogs are released at this point due to medical or temperament problems. The others continue into training.

Facilitators, such as Downing and Miller, are responsible for handling and caring for the dog. One of the most valued qualities of the facility dog is the unconditional love and attention it gives to those with whom it interacts. In an educational setting, the dog helps engage students in school and special education classes.

Approximately six weeks after the conclusion of a two-week team training class, graduates return to CCI for final testing, certification and fine tuning if needed. Throughout the working life of the dogs, graduates periodically return to campus with their dogs for workshops, seminars and reunions.

In addition, CCI instructors remain in close touch with graduates on an on-going basis through correspondence, reports and by providing advice via telephone and e-mail. Instructors also travel into the field to conduct workshops and to resolve specific training or behavioral problems in the graduate’s home and/or workplace environment.

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