Animal Tales: Brody, Certified Therapy Dog and Leader of the PAWS Pack

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April 10th, 2014
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This is a guest post from Kate Baker, a high school English teacher at Southern Regional in Manahawkin, NJ. In honor of National Pet Day, we asked her to share how one cuddly canine has redefined “creature comfort” for her classroom and school.

Brody_puppyBrody and I met when he was five weeks old, after the breeder drove him from Indiana to our house in New Jersey. I’ll never forget gazing into those sad puppy dog eyes for the first time, which you can see he still has 10 years later. But don’t be fooled; Brody has a very good life and is so much more than my family pet and my school’s unofficial mascot. He’s a founding member of the Pets Assisting Willing Students (PAWS) therapy dog program at Southern Regional High School.

Brody was originally meant to be just a family pet, but I quickly learned about the healing power of animals when tragedy struck at the high school where I teach 9th grade English. Ten years ago, a number of staff and students died in accidents, and one of my former students committed suicide. In a note she left on my desk, she said goodbye and taught me a very important life lesson: I can’t solve everything and when something bad happens, I must turn it into a positive. Brody arrived two weeks after my student died, and caring for and training him helped bring me out of my depression. While I was unable to do anything to prevent her suicide or bring her back to life, Brody and his obedience trainer showed me how therapeutic dogs can be in times of need.

Brody_BakerPerfect Pedigree
A therapy dog is a dog trained to provide affection and comfort to people with learning difficulties and those in hospitals, retirement homes, nursing homes, schools, and stressful situations (e.g. disaster areas). The most important characteristic of a therapy dog is its temperament. A good therapy dog must be friendly, patient, confident, gentle, and at ease in all situations. Therapy dogs must also enjoy human contact and be content with petting and handling, because their primary job is to allow unfamiliar people to make physical contact and enjoy it.

Brody’s trainer is also a teacher, so when I learned that her pets were certified therapy dogs that she brought to her special education classroom, I made it my mission to get Brody certified. The morale at school was bleak and my hope was that Brody could help avoid more suicides and comfort those in need when a tragedy does occur.

After completing the training and passing the Pet Therapy Certification Test (I held the pencil and Brody barked his answers—just kidding!), I worked with another teacher at Southern Regional who also had gotten her golden retriever certified, and we submitted a proposal to the administration and Board of Education to bring the dogs into our classroom. Once we received approval, we started slowly bringing the dogs in for one hour a day, one day a week, and then gradually worked up to a full-time, five days a week schedule. We let the students interact with the dogs during class and hosted after-school reading sessions for struggling students. For the past eight years, Brody has attended my English classes every school day.

Brody_hallwayPawsitive Connections
Southern Regional High School is Brody’s second home. Walk by my classroom and you may see him sitting at the feet of a student, snuggled next to someone reading, or asleep on his bed  while I teach. With Brody in my classroom, I have ZERO truancy. There is ZERO tardiness.

Behavioral issues have also decreased, and I’ve witnessed the school’s surliest, meanest looking student break into a big, goofy grin and get on the floor to pet Brody. I’ve watched regular education students stop to talk to a special education student walking Brody down the hall on a leash. Students who’ve had a bad day seek him out for comfort, and I often find notes written by students to Brody in his vest pocket.

Brody and I also spend part of my lunch period with the students in our Autism program. As part of his behavior modification plan, one student would walk Brody around the school visiting various offices and engaging in conversation with the professional assistants. When we first started walking with Brandon, he wouldn’t look at me or acknowledge my presence, but after three years of walking with Brody, he and I can engage in conversation and he acknowledges me regularly.

Brody is so well-known that he even headlined our district’s production of Annie, playing the part of Sandy. It’s amazing to see the transformation that occurs when Brody interacts with someone. A therapy dog is a bridge that connects us to ourselves and each other.

Brody_sandyFurever Friends
For those interested in bringing an animal into their classroom, whether it’s a pet hamster or a therapy dog, it’s important to follow safety protocols for all involved:

1. Make sure the animal has the right temperament for interacting with students and has received the appropriate certifications.

2. Speak to your building administrators and draft up a proposal for approval by your board of education.

3. With the support of your administration and approval by the board, distribute permission slips to anyone who will come in contact with the animal and accommodate those who are allergic or fearful of animals.

4. After securing approval from all parties, slowly acclimate your pet to its new environment.

Brody is turning 10 years old this month, and even though he’s starting to show his age, working at Southern has kept him young. He loves interacting with the staff and students and can tell you exactly which drawers in which offices have biscuits. When I ask, “Ready to go to school?” in the mornings, he immediately heads for the door. His portrait is painted on a hallway wall, and everyone reaches out to pet him as we walk through the halls in between class periods. A therapy animal helps bridge the gap between people by providing an opportunity for interaction, and Brody has brought many people together at Southern.

Do you have a pet in your classroom? Share its story, and its impact on your students and school, in the comments section below, or in the Edmodo Communities.


52 Responses to “Animal Tales: Brody, Certified Therapy Dog and Leader of the PAWS Pack”

  1. Sheryl says:

    What a beautiful story, Kate. Thank you for sharing this with us.

  2. selena chen says:

    that is so awesome, I drop my hat for this boy

  3. Samuel Trujillo says:

    Thanks for writing this article, what a great story !

  4. Kate, Thank you so much for everything that you do for this community. Your words are so very inspirational and heartfelt. I just wanted you to know that you continue to influence us as we follow your amazing career. You were meant to be in the classroom affecting us all!! :-)

  5. Kate Baker says:

    Thank you for the compliments, all! Brody is one special pup, and I’m gad I can share him with so many people.

    Always remember, more wag, less bark!
    -Kate

  6. Jane says:

    What a great story! I have experienced some of the most comforting conversations with dogs. I understand how a dog can soften the toughest hearts. They exhibit total acceptance of others with no false expectations or demands.

  7. Mary says:

    very nice story.

  8. Debbie Bratberg says:

    I have had a therapy trained dog the last two years in my classroom. He visits on Friday morning and my second grade students read to him.

  9. Brooke says:

    I wondered what you do if a student is allergic to dogs, or afraid of them? How would you get around this if you had your dog certified but had one child in the room who was too afraid?

  10. Linda says:

    My sheltie spent 3 years as a therapy dog in my elementary school. It was wonderful for all of us. He was even given his own “staff ID” card to ware (his picture was on it just like ours).

    Two of my emotionally challenged students were able to stay in the classroom most of the year due to having a therapy dog in the classroom.

  11. sharon kinsey says:

    Kate,

    I have two therapy dogs that I take to nursing homes regularly. I am also a student teacher and would love to bring one of my dogs to English class to help engage struggling readers. Could you share the proposal you wrote with me and also provide additional guidance on getting such a program into my school? My email is sharonkinsey@gmail.com. Thanks so much!

    • Kelly says:

      I too would be interested in the proposal, or even just some pointers on what to include. Thanks and well done!

    • miranda says:

      I would also love a copy of your proposal to help guide me in my own proposal. This is something I’ve talked about doing for awhile and what better time than now to get started!
      Also where did you get your therapeutic certification for Brody through? I’ve looked online and is seems like there are a ton of options- not sure what is the best…
      strangedesign80@yahoo.com

      Thanks :)
      Miranda

  12. Deb says:

    I love the idea of having a therapy dog in schools. There are so many positive benefits. Thank you for sharing your story.

  13. Nancy from WV says:

    Thank you so much for this beautiful story! It brought tears to my eyes. You covered all the bases and shared the awesomeness of how animals help not only students but everyone! I’m going to forward it to my administrators and superintendent who are also on board with animal therapy. We have a therapy dog at one of our six county elementary schools. Maybe this will inspire our county to do more!
    I’m so proud of you for doing what you do and sharing it with others!

  14. Norma De La Rosa says:

    Our school has therapy dogs come in once a week to work with our struggling readers as part of our interventions. They are wonderful and the kids so look forward to going to the library and reading to them. They are always asking to make sure the dogs are coming in that day because they don’t want to miss a day. It has been great seeing reluctant readers gain more confidence in their reading ability and we plan to continue the program next year.

  15. Cindi Ortiz says:

    Wonderful! I have often thought we should do this at our high school. I am the advisor for our school’s Ani-Pals club and whenever we have guest speakers visit with animals (usually dogs or cats) the students are so much more engaged. We even get “non members” to join us on those days because the animals are such a magnet. I wish comfort/therapy dogs (or cats) could be the norm in every school. It would be so helpful in times of stress for staff and students alike. It could also help boost attendance, as you have noted. Kudos to you for coming up with such great addition to your classroom. Please give Brody a kiss on the nose. :)

  16. Kathy says:

    I am an Occupational Therapist in my school district, and as itenerant staff, travel to 2-3 schools each day. Does anyone have any experience with taking an animal into several schools?

  17. Jayme says:

    Recently, our senior class lost one of its soon to graduate students. Our principal and counseling professionals encouraged bringing PAWS members into our school to support our students who were suffering from the loss. Having completed my master’s thesis on the topic of animals as therapy assistants to individuals with emotional impairments and participated as an instructor and CGC tester for our local dog training club, I have worked with my dogs in assistance capacities. My principal allowed me to bring my Frenchie into the school. On this day, a big, strong senior came to my class in tears. Within 2 minutes of “David” hopping up on his knee, the student was taking a selfie with David, laughing and positively interacting with the class. He indicated upon leaving for the weekend that he would not have made it through class that day without David. Animals make people’s lives better!

  18. Jeanne says:

    I have seen amazing things happen when I bring my therapy dog Mackenzie to school too. As a school social worker, he enhances my practice with my clients by providing an environment of trust and unconditional love. He is so well loved by all the children. He is going to be 11 years old and he will be retiring after being at school for the past 8 years. I am in the process of exposing my new therapy dog to the school environment right now. Once you have an established a pet therapy program at your school, it takes on a life of its own and everyone wants it to continue!

  19. Robin Vitullo says:

    My dogs attended school with me for several years! There is a book published called “Allie Goes To School” about my dog Allie. Dogs are wonderful!

  20. Kyle Walpole says:

    Canine Companions for Independence (CCI.org), in addition to training and providing Service, Hearing, and Skilled Companion (for children with a supervisor) dogs, provides fully certified Facility Dogs. Qualified applicants attend a two week team training to be matched with a facility dog to be used in a healthcare, visitation, or educational setting. The dogs are trained in over 50 commands and can be utilized for multiple activities (see http://www.cci.org/atf/cf/%7BD369F549-15C4-46EE-BEE3-52B190502F3F%a/FacilityDogbook.pdf). CCI also provides ongoing support services. Placement of the highly trained dog is free to the handler.

  21. I love this! Thank yo for sharing!

  22. Bobbie says:

    I have a dog that I always thought would be a good candidate for this. Do you have any contact information for Kansas City Kansas training?

  23. Kathy says:

    I love to hear about schools using therapy dogs is in a safe, responsible way! I have a registered therapy dog who is also R.E.A.D. (Reading Education Assistant Dogs) certified. We have used therapy dogs in our school to motivate students to read and to improve literacy for the past 5 years and have had great success as well. The students and staff all benefit from having therapy dogs in the building. Thanks for sharing your story!

  24. Rhonda says:

    Kate,
    I am so sorry to hear about the tragedy but so touched at the outcome with Brody.
    I have taught special needs students for 30 years and have always had classroom pets. My first year it was a bunny. Then there was a rescued kitten on the campus of a treatment center where I worked with severe behavior disordered students. It is so heartwarming to see some of the angriest, meanest, kids talk to a baby kitten and help raise it in the classroom. I have had students who are scared, just been yanked from home and come into the classroom with eyes looking down at the floor but then you ask them about pets or if they like animals before presenting the pet and you see their body language completely relax. They focus on the pet and begin to open up. It’s the most beautiful thing to watch.
    There have been birds, frogs and turtles in my classrooms over the years.
    My turtles have been with me 15 years now. It’s not the same as having a warm and fussy pet but the still bring comfort to the classroom and students from all over the school ask to come visit my turtles. It’s used for rewarded behavior and for students who may need a break. Whatever the case animals do have a place in the classroom.
    Kate you have really inspired me to move forward with pet therapy. I have always wanted to have a certified dog but never seemed to have the right one. It never occurred to me to get a puppy and train from the beginning.
    Thank-you for your beautiful story.

  25. Marilyn says:

    What a wonderful story! I’ve had a trained therapy dog in my school counseling program for 20 years–two different dogs–and they have made a wonderful addition to the school and community. They have affected the lives of many students.

    • Cathy says:

      Marilyn, our Adult Ed counselors are wanting to bring in a therapy dog as part of our counseling team. Would you be able to give us any pointers, as counseling is different than classroom interaction?

  26. Jessica says:

    Love this story! I wrote a graduate paper on Animal Assisted therapy. I work with Special Needs students and deaf/HI students. I also have 2 rescued deaf Aussies and a little abused dog (someone bound his mouth leaving permanent scar). They have visited the school and so have my past dogs. I still have stories written by students who are grown from those visits. I wholeheartedly agree with the benefits from our PAW Partners in Education!! Keep up the good work!!

  27. JoAnn Filer says:

    Thanks for sharing and for excellent work as a teacher and responsible pet owner.

  28. Pam Wolfe says:

    I loved reading your article about therapy dogs. I started up a Reading to Dogs program at my local elementary school, which is a high-need, mostly poor and immigrant population. I’ve recruited two more dogs for the program, and we service more than 50 kids a week. The kids love to read to my therapy dog, Frodo, and greet him as he walks along the halls. Kids who have trouble reading or who don’t feel comfortable reading around people will cuddle up with a dog and read with no anxiety.

  29. Beth Smith says:

    What a beautiful story. God has a special place in Heaven for dogs like Brody and for the special people in his life. Thank you for sharing this sweet boy’s story.

  30. Andrea Juskaitis says:

    Hello,
    I just read your post and cannot tell you enough how sad it makes me to leave my house everyday without my dog. I am a high school English teacher and I work closely with Honors and AP students, who are so incredibly stressed about getting into college. I used to bring my dog to school, but since we are a private school, apparently, there are some parents who did not like dogs on campus (allergies, fear, etc.) My dog is the most gentle, loving, smart, loyal, dog I have ever had! She is an Aussie Shepherd, six years old, and is truly my stress reliever. I would like to see what your proposal looked like if you could send it to my email. I am at the point that I would like to bring her in again, because when I did, there were more smiles in my classroom and on campus for sure! You know. I would really like to do this for finals week, which is right around the corner. Thanks so much.

  31. Marissa Revzen-Ellis says:

    What an uplifting story. I would love that opportunity. The power of animals is amazing!

  32. Mike Cargill says:

    The School District recognizes the benefits of have a therapy dog onsite and has allowed a pilot program called “Training to Lead” (TTL); a project based learning opportunity for selected students at Stafford High School. The objective of the program is to pair students with canine partners from the Pratt Area Humane Society for a 20-week program. The students will assume the role of foster homes, responsible for care and training their assigned partner. Prior to getting the dogs, the students have been exposed to leadership and job readiness skills, preparing the students for the responsibility associated with “therapy dog” training. At the completion of the program the dogs will be donated to a service organization as “certified therapy dog”. More information is available at our Facebook page https://www.facebook.com/StaffordTTL .

  33. Kirsten says:

    I have an aussie that I bring to school. The impact she has on my classroom is amazing. She is kind and intuitive and loves being with the kids. The staff loves her too! I have only brought her a few times, but plan on making her a regular part of the day next year! She has had many, many hours of 4H classes (obedience, rally, agility) and has earned her CGC. We are one step away from her therapy dog certification. I am so thankful that I have administrators that are supportive and understand the rationale behind bringing a pet to school.

  34. Linda Martin-Seng says:

    My dog is an official Therapy Dog for hospitals, nursing homes, rehab centers, etc. but our schools don’t allow them-that is so sad…I would love to bring her.
    In my previous district, I often took both my dogs at once to my elementary. It was a low socio-economic area, and those dogs always went to the neediest kids (often ones dealing with violence or trauma at home), or to those kids who were sad and needed a friend. The fur friends were super helpful little counselors!
    Thanks for your story!

  35. Denise Smith says:

    Thanks for your positive story. It was an inspiration for me as I am currently training my 9 monthh old pup to be a service and therapy dog. She just earned her “in-trainign vest and badge” and we are visiting childrens’ clubs this week-end. I am a special education teacher and would love to bring my pup to school but I am not sure how to write a proposal or where to even start. I would appreciate any ideas you may have and are willing to share. Thanks for being that special person who makes a difference in the lives of our teenagers.

  36. Patti says:

    Bravo!

  37. Erica Lyon says:

    I have a therapy dog in my classroom, Griffin. Griffin helps in more ways than I know. Helping students, staff, and parents to feel more relaxed at school.

  38. Gloria says:

    What an inspiring story. I’ve been working for several months now to get a service dog for my son who has Asperger Syndrome. If anyone knows of any reliable companies in Upstate NY, or maybe even driving distance I would be extremely grateful.

  39. Sarah Rush says:

    Hi There,

    I have been trying for two years now to get approval for a dog program at my school for students with special needs (autism, learning disabilities, physical support, behavioural needs etc.) Would you mind sharing your ideas and proposal strategies with me? It would be greatly appreciated!

    Sarah

  40. It was wonderful to read your story! I have been bringing my certified therapy dogs in the afternoons to the Primary building with me. For three years I have worked in the reading intervention room. Reluctant readers, special ed students, behavior problems & the general population all have contact opportunities with my two goldens. It is such a success. Yes I went thru the steps you outlined with my Board of Education! My training group Willing Partners also teams service dogs up with veterans in need. Those veterans volunteers to work in my reading program when they can. It has been the best fit to all; dogs, me, kids, teachers, staff, and veterans!!!!

  41. Ellen says:

    I have one current Therapy dog and one that I am going to have tested. I would love to be able to bring one of them with me to my classroom. I have seen the way behavior changes in the students when my dog is present in class (I was able to convince the principal to let me bring my one dog on Halloween as part of my costume). Unfortunately, I don’t think my superintendent and the board see the same value.

  42. Ann says:

    I just lost my golden retriever to cancer. He loved everyone and even people “not into dogs” couldn’t help but adore him. I wanted to get him certified as a therapy dog but his illness prevented this from happening. When I am ready I would like to institute this program at my high school. Do you have a template for your proposal? Any other information would be great! Thanks for sharing. Brody sounds very special.

  43. Holly says:

    I also have a therapy dog that I brought to my classroom this past year. I teach resource at 2 different campuses and I was successful at integrating him at one school, but not at the other. Although I had both principal’s ok to bring Hamlet (4 year old great dane) into my classroom, he was better received by one than the other. I am so glad to see that you take your dog daily. Right now, Hamlet just comes once a week, but I wanted to step it up this next year. And I don’t want him to be just a novelty in the classroom. I want him to be an active teaching tool. Do you have any actual curriculum using Brody in the classroom or do you just let him do his thing? I know there is a program called MUTT-I-GREE, but it doesn’t actually teach me how to use Hamlet in an academic way in the classroom. It’s more of a social/emotional programs which is great, but not what I’m shooting for.
    Right this moment, we are praying that Hamlet can come to school even a little next year. We suspect that he may have Wobbler’s disease and may have to have surgery. Please pray for my furry child and you keep bringing your teaching partner to school.
    Holly

    • Kyle W says:

      You should investigate a facility dog rather than just a therapy dog to use in your classroom. I urge you to go to CCI.org. That’s the website for canine companions for Independence. They train not only guide, service, and hearing dogs, but facility dogs, which are trained to be utilized in a professional setting within an institution.

  44. Riley says:

    When I originally commented I clicked the “Notify me when new comments are added” checkbox and now each time a comment is added I get three emails with the same comment. Is there any way you can remove me from that service? Thank you!

  45. Katie says:

    Hi Kate! I am walking back into the classroom after being a SAHM for the last 14 years. The last three years my dog, Ginger and I have been working with an assisted therapy group visiting a hospital and occupational center. I will miss that the most until I read your article, maybe we can do what you do! I have already been on the American Kennel website and did not see any certifications that pertained specifically to high school certification. Would you please direct me? My principal is interested and I would like to get the ball rolling. Thanks for the great inspiration!

  46. WilliamMundy says:

    Thank you so much for this beautiful story! Tears rolled down my eyes. You covered all the bases and shared the awesomeness of how animals help others. Animals are such a magnet, and I have seen amazing things happen. I so liked this article. You have shared an excellent piece of information.

  47. PetVetPrices says:

    That’s a great story. Thank you very much for sharing it with us.

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