DONAHUE, Iowa — Among the photos of teachers gracing the lobby of John Glenn Elementary School here is a portrait of Maple the dog.
Indeed, the 22-month-old golden retriever is an important player on the school staff. A graduate of an intensive 12-week canine assistance training program in Kansas, she is the school’s therapy dog. She serves as a four-footed aide to school counselor Tracy Helton, performing a variety of functions ranging from listening to children read to helping an autistic child develop better communications skills.
Her presence has helped students become more motivated, responsible, caring and, in general, better citizens, school officials say.
“I can’t tell you what an incredible gift she has been to our school.” C.J. Albertson, school principal, said.
Maple is among three therapy dogs in the North Scott School district, one of a growing number of school districts that use them. Among the first was the Clinton Community School District, which acquired its first therapy dog in 2000 and has added five more since.
Veterinarians and school officials say therapy dogs stimulate loyalty, love and physicality; help combat depression and isolation and provide opportunities for nurturing and caretaking.
“They can work wonders with children in need,” said John Jorgensen, the principal at Clinton’s Bluff Elementary School, where a Hexa, a big yellow Labrador, has been a therapy dog since 2000.
The value of therapy dogs can be seen with Thomas Black, a 10-year-old fourth grader at John Glenn. He has autism, a developmental disability that can affect social interaction and communication skills. During a recent afternoon, he practiced verbalization with Maple as they played “fetch” in the school gymnasium.
Wearing the harness that is her “work” uniform, Maple chased the ball as Thomas shouted “Get it,” Bring it” and “Drop it.” It was obvious that boy and dog enjoyed their 20-minute romp.
“Maple provides interaction that I cannot,” Helton said.
Therapy dogs were introduced in the North Scott Schools this school year largely through the efforts of Lorri Gettes, the counselor at Edward White Elementary School in Eldridge. She was familiar with the therapy dogs in Clinton schools.
She and Shamus Budde, a fifth grade teacher at White, oversee the school’s therapy dog, Champ, a two-year-old a golden retriever-Labrador mix. The dog performs a number of duties, such as helping children achieve behavior goals through an awards system in which they spend time with him if they are successful.
“He has a very calming effect on the class,” Gettes said.
The therapy dogs in the Clinton and North Scott school districts were trained by Canine Assistance Rehabilitation Education & Services Inc., or CARES Inc., of Concordia, Kan. The dogs typically are sponsored by veterinarians who donate food and veterinary services. The dog generally with teachers and counselors.
Because of their intense training, therapy dogs know when they are working, educators say, and barking and other disruptive behavior are absent.
“The dogs work hard, and they are extremely patient with the kids” said Randall Clegg, the Clinton superintendent of schools.
John Willard can be contacted at
(563) 383-2314 or firstname.lastname@example.org.