The most popular question that I receive as a therapy dog owner: “what is the most memorable moment of your work with your dogs?” Of course there isn’t one moment, and yes I should probably starting writing them down. But during my run this morning, I brainstormed a few experiences that I will most certainly never forget that are a direct result of having my dogs in my classroom with me.
To start, I will say that pets are a connecting point with pretty much any student… and a positive one at that. Whenever you ask a child about their pets (or even adults), they will usually smile first and then start telling about names, breeds, etc. In this day and age, the term “show and tell” could never be more true as they usually also whip out their phones to display their favorite pet pic. If a student doesn’t have a pet, you can almost certainly count on the statement “well I don’t have a pet, but…” followed by a short anecdote about a pet that they know. I have found that this streamlines connecting with even the most difficult student and also opens doors to other topics.
Throughout the last 8 schools years (when Katie joined our classroom back in 2010), I have heard from many students that the dogs give them a reason to get up in the morning. Hearing this time and time again is a wonderful thing. We don’t always know what our students are going through outside of the classroom, but even the smallest positive, in this case a dog, can make a difference in their mood, attendance, grades, and so much more. I have my three dogs on a rotating schedule, and many of my students seem to have their “favorite” – they can always anticipate when to expect which dog and their corresponding personality.
In November 2017, Winnie was cast as “Sandy” in RAPA’s production of Annie. It was simply magical. Not only did the audience love her, but watching her interact with the cast, crew, and pit orchestra was incredible. We attached a GoPro camera to her back one night to capture the bonding, smiles, and attention. The director of the show expressed that she had never been a dog person, and possibly had an ounce of fear when around dogs. At the conclusion of the show, we received a handwritten note from her expressing her gratitude to Winnie, as she truly had shown her that “she COULD love a dog.” Sometimes my dogs have desensitized folks from fears or anxiety relating to troubling animal experiences in their past. This is a huge win, as dogs, like it or not, are part of our society. Even scratching the surface of connection by demonstrating a safe human-canine environment can be such a rewarding part of this mission.
I have watched students “settle in” with the dogs… students who have a hard time “settling in” otherwise and often struggle to focus on the task at hand. I have seen elderly folks light up with joy when my dog walks into the room or facility… usually accompanied by some pleasant memory of their past. I have observed both adults and children who are overcome with grief actually take deep breaths and problem solve with a one of my dogs on their lap or at their feet. I have listened to Winnie “howl” with delight during one of our ensemble rehearsals. Distraction? Never. It’s a moment for all of us to breathe, relax, and enjoy the moment. I often see Katie heading into classrooms who may need an extra ounce of love, and have even had students ask to take her on field trips between the schools in our district. I have seen Charlie dump and entire toy box and stand inside it in the middle of an 85-minute class. It might be a nuisance to some – to our class, it’s a reminder to smile. Oh, what dogs can teach us!
Now that I have a blog, perhaps I will be able to better log the “memorable moments” from this doodle clan as they happen. What a joy they are in my life, and hopefully in the lives of many others as well.