Comfort on Four Legs

Something spectacular is happening daily in my daughter’s school.  Since December, therapy dogs have been in the halls and classrooms.  Brought in for comfort after December 14th,  these furry, four-legged souls have brought so much more.  


My daughter loves school, and feels sad when each school year ends. After December 14th, she adamantly stated she would not return to school… words I never imagined we’d hear.  Like all Newtown parents, I worried that first day back.  I knew she’d be safe, but worried how she’d feel.  To my surprise (and relief), she smiled getting off the bus home, exclaiming, “Mommy, there were DOGS there!”

Our principal, Dr. Smith, had seen therapy dogs at work earlier in his career, and through friends. Seeing  the dog teams at the crisis center the first weekend after December 14th, he began screening dogs and handlers, asking them to return for the students the first day schools would reopen. All of them said yes, many “moving mountains”  to assist.

Fourteen dog teams were at  school to start, and have tapered off to six teams a day working two-hour tours.  The positive effect the dogs brought was apparent immediately.  In the medical community, there’s countless studies listing the many health benefits of pets.  Google the subject, and articles come up listing the positives, from lowering blood pressure to decreasing loneliness and anxiety.  Petting a dog relaxes a person, and stimulates the inner child in everyone.  No one at our school has stated any negative from the presence of these dogs – only positive.

The children know all of the dogs by name,  their varied breeds and distinguishing character attributes.  “Canine Calling Cards” have become the rage, with handlers passing out cards about their pets, which the kids collect and trade.  My daughter created a special album for the ones she’s collected. At first, Dr. Smith thought the children used the cards like bubble gum trading cards, but soon found out they mean much more.  One child stated that he is collecting the cards so that when the dogs aren’t around he can “remember the happiness the dogs bring”.  The cards open dialogue at home, as well.

The kids have been participating in meaningful writing assignments because of the dogs. Dr. Smith has received over 150 letters from students singing the dogs’ praises.  One child wrote  they represent a “reminder that he was lucky his little sister wasn’t hurt.”  Another wrote, “The dogs are so cute.  They are comfort.  Please don’t take them away.”  Others have written they appreciate the love and comfort they receive after losing their own pet.  Dr. Smith feels  the experience with the dogs “helps the children see that when they run into a challenge or problem, often there’s an unsolicited form of help, and to learn to recognize that help when it comes.”

The dogs give the children something to look forward to at school on a random basis, and have helped the kids with their feelings the last three months. When I chatted with the teachers, they spoke with joy and gratitude toward the canine visitors.  They’re comforting when a child (or staff member) is having a bad day. I watched as a  dog moved quietly through a classroom of kids and their teacher sitting in a circle having a lesson.  Every child was relaxed and  smiling, yet the dog wasn’t an interruption.  After petting a dog, the kids are more focused and calm.

The dogs have not only brought unconditional love and comfort, but academic motivation and increased enthusiasm to learn. The teachers have witnessed kids wanting to research dogs and dog breeds, and have seen an increase in reading. Students want to read books about dogs. They also motivate writing.  A Language Arts teacher told me that her class was nervous about a recent writing prompt.  One of the dogs visited, and a palpable calm was felt in class. The class that had the visit from the dog did better on the assignment than the class that did not get a visit before the assignment.

At  the lunch period, I witnessed kids working together learning dog commands, talking about the dogs and chatting with the handlers.  One boy said his parents agreed to get a dog because of his enthusiasm.

Some of the children bring cards or gifts for the dogs.  This squeeky toy was given by a little girl to her favorite therapy dog.  One child at our school asked for donations in lieu of birthday gifts so they could bring a thank you gift to each dog at school.

At home, having the dogs at school has motivated my daughter to take a more active role in the responsibility and care of our family dog.  It also inspired her to join a dog club through our county’s 4-H program, with activities we can do together.

Our family dog brings us unconditional love and comfort.  This is the face greeting us each morning. My daughter has grown closer and more responsible with our dog after having dogs at school.

Of course, not any dog can be a therapy dog. The teams go through strict courses and tests for certification. Schools are noisy and a dog must handle what many could not. I saw kids hug and pet a dog non-stop, even “styling” his fur. His patience never wavered, his tail never stopped wagging.  One teacher said, “All the dogs have stories”. The kids see this, prompting some to make “cards” highlighting  their  positive attributes.

A special moment occurred between a dog and a very quiet student.  This student’s face “lit up” upon sight of their canine friend. The student became more outgoing, stroking the dog and speaking to it sweetly. The dog, instinctively extra gentle, without command calmly laid down. The interaction between them was nothing short of magical.

As a parent, I can’t thank the dogs, their handlers and the school enough for the dogs’ special gifts. The teachers feel the same, many expressing a wish to have them permanently. “We need them!” one exclaimed.  Whether dogs will return after this school year isn’t known, but their presence this year will never be forgotten.  As the kids say, “How can you not be happy when around a dog?”

***Have you had an experience where an animal helped or inspired you?  Share with me by leaving a comment below.***

If you’re a pet owner, give them an extra hug from me. Until next time…Farmgirl Hugs, Nicole

Leave a comment 21 Comments

  1. Judy from Maine says:

    I am sitting here with tears in my eyes. Your blog was beautiful. It is wonderful to know that something so perfect is filling the children’s lives now, when something so horrible touched you all such a short time ago. My husband and I share our life with two dogs and every day they show us the wonder and goodness of a simple life. We laugh because of them, sometimes our patience is tried because of them, but always they show us their love and are there for us whenever we need a little pick up from daily life.

    Judy, thank you!  You are so right, there’s so much we can learn from our dogs. Farmgirl Hugs, Nicole

  2. kristy says:

    I have no experience with Therapy Dogs, but know that our local library has a program where beginning readers read to dogs. Most of the dogs involved seem to belong with/to older adults. It appears that kids flourish with a non-critical audience, that dogs like being snuggled and adults who don’t live with children like being involved. It’s a win, win, win. How could the people, who first domesticated dogs known it was worth doing? Think of all the people and pets who have benefited over all those years. Thank you for reminding us.

    Kristy, Wow!  What a great program.  Kudos to your library and those involved for setting that up. Thank you for sharing! -Nicole

  3. Becka says:

    My dad was diagnosed with congestive heart problems and he went into a depression, sitting in his recliner, basically waiting to die. He was convinced he couldn’t do anything. I had recently been surprised with being pregnant and knew my dachshund, Crystal, would not be happy about there being a baby around. Solution? I gave my dog to my mother for her birthday. (Dad didn’t want a dog, he said.) Sure enough, Crystal became my dad’s shadow and I soon received letters about how dad had to walk around to find the dog and then fix the fence. Crystal made him get up and do things and he was soon back to normal. Except, now he had a little friend who adored him! That was one of the best gifts I have ever given anyone.

    Becka, how beautiful!  It’s me with tears in my eyes now.  Thank you so much for sharing your story.  -Nicole

  4. Adrienne says:

    I’ve had several dogs at one time: Beaubeaux, a male poodle; Topaz, a female cockapoo; and their two puppies: Bogart, a male and Toffee, a female. They were a handful to walk but oh the love and comfort they gave! When I felt bad, Beaubeaux would sit next to me and put his head on my lap as if to say "Pet me." Topaz would put a paw on my shoulder and look deeply into my eyes as if she could take the pain away. Bogart was a jester, always smiling and reminding me I would be happy again. And Toffee was named because she was so sweet. She would climb into my lap, put her head on my neck and let me cry into her fur. Dogs are very absorbent. I can’t thank them enough.

    I’ll meet them at the Rainbow Bridge and it will be a very happy reunion.

    Oh Adrienne, how sweet and insightful they all sound.  I agree, Heaven won’t be Heaven without my fur-babies meeting me there someday!  We only have one dog right now, but at one time had four.  We used to call them our "herd" instead of a pack, because they also included the cats.  Our living room used to look like Noah’s Ark after dinner when they would all calmly lay down together. Thank you for your comment!  Farmgirl Hugs, Nicole

  5. Denise says:

    How wonderful!

  6. Renee Chance says:

    So encouraging. Dogs are really so special and deserve such good treatment from us. Thank you for sharing this story. So wonderful to see how God is using the dogs to help these kids.

  7. Cindy says:

    What a great idea!! I recently spend some time at the veterans’ hospital and had my dogs with me. Everybody wanted to pet them. The older gentlemen wanted to hold the small one on their laps. Dogs can be very soothing. Maybe having a dog in the schools would be something that should be looked into.

    I agree!  I saw first-hand what an amazing effect they have at our school.  It was really miraculous.  I am so glad they will be staying until the end of school, but it would be great to have them all the time.  – Farmgirl Hugs, Nicole

  8. Dorothy Pavlovic says:

    What a beautiful story!
    Thank you for sharing it with us.
    I wish you could post it to Facebook or Pinterest where even more people can
    see it…..

    Dorothy

    Hi Dorothy, Thank you! The link to the blog is shared on MaryJanesFarm’s facebook page, and if you would like to share it, please pass the link on. This story meant so much to me to write.  Farmgirl Hugs, Nicole

  9. Bonnie says:

    Nicole, what a wonderful article. I agree that it is an amazing addition to the classroom for children. I also wonder if it would be beneficial with ADD and ADHD children. How great it would be if having dogs could help reduce or eliminate the use of drugs in these kids!

  10. Spartacus says:

    Nicole, Thank you for your kind words. I am sure that Dad & I can speak for all the dog teams by saying we are happy to be there. We are thrilled to hear your insights. Makes our day :-) Hope to see you soon.

    Spartacus & Brad

    Dear Spartacus, I’m so glad you and your dad got to see this.  You and your dog team colleagues are absolutely the best!! -Nicole

  11. Laurie Dimino says:

    Hi sweet Nicole!
    What a wonderful post. Without a doubt, our furry friends offer so much to us all on a daily basis, never asking for anything in return.
    Our library has the same program one of the other readers mentioned- At our library it is called Book Time with a Dog-where young readers are given 30 minutes to read to a dog. Because the dog does not "judge" the child’s reading skills, the child builds confidence and strength. Its is wonderful, and my own children participated when they were younger.
    The power of therapy dogs is nothing short of a miracle, and I am so happy that Newtown is being blessed with their presence! How wonderful for everyone!
    Hugs,
    Laurie

    Hi Laurie, I love hearing about this program!  What a great experience for all involved. 
    The dogs at our school are truly a blessing.  I also want to say that I saw how hard the handlers work, and I hope they know how we all really appreciate their efforts.
    Thanks for commenting! Farmgirl, Nicole

  12. Steve says:

    Thank you for your heart felt story. My dog and I are one of the teams you speak of. We immediately jumped to action when the tragic event happened, putting my dog to the ultimate test of stamina working her 10-12 hours a day at the crisis center where we met " Dr. Jay " After ten days the emotional stress began to take its toll on my pup, even though her breed has a higher tolerance than most dogs. She needed a break ( she slept for three days ) and work needed me, but we promised Jay we would be there for the kids when his school opened back up. We are now there two days a week and I swear my dog knows every student and teacher. And the only emotion my dog feels now is happiness. As a resident of Sandy Hook we are committed to continue visiting "our" kids at the school and wherever else we can help. Will the dogs be in the schools next year ?? We do not know at this time. But if allowed back we will surely be there. All the dog/handler teams are ready to be there.
    Thanks again and I will remind my dog tonight how special she is to the kids of Newtown.

    Steve, thank you.  You are a blessing! -Nicole

  13. Nancy says:

    I am a therapy dog owner/handler and have seen first hand what a dog can do for children ,the elderly, and men in prison but most of all those of us who take the dogs to visit. It is a wonderful way to give back!!. I’m sure the handlers received as much if not more from being with the children. I too have tears thinking of your children.

    Thank you for your note, Nancy.  -Nicole

  14. Peggy says:

    Being the human part of a team Nicole visited with in the Newtown school, I can attest to the magic and positive energy a dog brings to the school environment. There is always a smile when we appear, followed by many hugs and pats. But there is a quiet respect, as well, when we silently pass through a classroom whose students are at work, or when we sit in the reading circle with the students to enjoy a book. It is a magic that defies explanation. It just IS! And it is magic not only for the students, but for the adults and handlers, as well! We ALL smile. Thanks to Nicole for spending time with us and sharing the story. We all hope we can return next year to spread even more magic, but that will be a decision made by others and which we will have to respect.

    Peggy, thank you so much for allowing me to visit with you, and for all you do each week.  You all truly are a blessing.  And your dog is one of the sweetest little souls I’ve ever met! Much love, Nicole

  15. Karen says:

    My neighbor’s dogs, Siena and Drago, are two of the therapy dogs that have traveled to Newtown to be a comfort to those children and adults. These dogs are so loving and adorable and have been a wonderful playmate for my own dog. Siena and Drago have also been "listeners" to beginning readers at my school and brought me joy every time they entered the school. Working in a K-2 school in the area we all grieved for the loss Newtown has suffered and thinking about that horrible day still makes me cry. Knowing two of the therapy dogs, I appreciate the kind words you spoke of these loving creatures. Thank you for acknowledging these furry heroes!

    Karen, I know all about Drago and Siena!  I have not personally met them, but my daughter comes home and tells me all about them!  Please give them both a big hug from my family!  Thank you so much for your kind words.  -Nicole

  16. Janice says:

    I am touched to read all of these kind words about the dogs and their handlers. These dogs and their owners can work magic and truly help comfort those who have been through a difficult time. My mother-in-law and her dog, Noel, are a part of this special program. I love to hear the happiness and enthusiasm in her voice as she tells me the stories of her visits. I feel honored and blessed to know that my mother-in-law, and one of her dogs, is making a difference. She is truly an amazing woman! Thank you again!

    Janice, thank you for commenting!  It is my wish that all the handlers would get to read this blog entry, so they can know how much we all love them! -Nicole

  17. janie edwards says:

    thank you so much for your story! i understand how you feel and those kids are so special. i have two rescue dogs and when my husband died unexpectantly 3 yrs ago, they ended up rescuing me. they have brought such comfort and joy to me and i don’t think i could have made it without them.

    Janie, I am so sorry to hear you suffered such a loss,  but it is heartwarming to hear that you and your dogs "rescued" each other. I’ve heard that some of the dogs that were in our town are on their way to comfort Boston. 

    Thank you for reading and commenting. Hugs, Nicole

  18. Pat Tetrault says:

    Thank you for your wonderful blog. As one of the Therapy Dog volunteers, it makes my heart glad to know that we are making a difference & touching lives. Arwen the Therapy Dog says hello!! to her friends at Reed!

    Pat, thank you so much for your comment.  You and Arwen have made such a difference to the Reed kids.  Thank you all so much! Hugs from my daughter and I to your pup! -Nicole

  19. Sandy says:

    Thank you Nicole for that wonderful story. My dog Kona and I are one of the teams that visit weekly. It is truly amazing to see the unconditional love between the dogs and children. It is the best hours of the week for us. We will be there as long as the schools want us.

    Hi Sandy!  I have heard lots about Kona from Audrey!  Thank you for all your time and effort.  We will never forget what all of you have done for our kids.  Hugs to Kona from us! -Nicole

  20. What a lovely blog post. May I share /put in a link to my Facebook page as I know many of my fellow teaching colleagues would love to read it.

    Thank you, Ruta. -Nicole

  21. Akanna says:

    Awesome Website, Continue the good job. Thank you!

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