By Tom Marshall
Senior Advocate writer
Mt. Sterling Elementary School is getting a therapy dog.
The Montgomery County Board of Education approved a proposal for such a dog at its June meeting. Ellie, a part poodle, part Black Lab, will be the district’s only therapy dog.
In the past the district has called upon help from Lisa, a therapy dog at Windsor Care Center, during a tragedy such as the loss of a teacher earlier this year, district officials said.
The proposal was first brought to principal Brandy Holley by school counselor Sara Mays and Family Resource Center director Cartrec Garrett.
“The purpose of this program is to provide services to all students who may need extra support in certain situations,” Holley told the Advocate. “The therapy dog can be used in certain situations including, but not limited to, de-escalation, grief counseling, classroom guidance lessons, greeting students, crisis management and many other types of programs and situations.”
Holley said the therapy dog is being financially supported by the school’s Parent Teacher Organization as part a statewide initiative that will bring therapy dogs to a few schools.
“We are working in conjunction with another district in central Kentucky to work out some of the logistics,” she said. “We are beyond excited to get this program going in our school.”
Holley said Ellie will begin her training soon and toward the end of 2017 she will begin a slow integration into the school.
In its presentation to the school board, the school noted that “the human-animal bond is a mutually beneficial and dynamic relationship between people and animals that positively influence the health and well-being of both.”
The presentation also lists the social, cognitive, physical, emotional and environmental benefits of a therapy dog in school.
Among some of those specific benefits, as noted in the presentation, are:
• The presence of an animal can significantly increase positive social behaviors among children with autism spectrum disorder.
• It provides a mutual topic for discussion and promotes greater self esteem and interaction with others.
• Interaction and companionship with a dog will stimulate memory and problem solving.
• Studies have shown that therapy dogs contribute to the improvement of comprehension and reading skills for students with difficulties.
• Studies have shown that interactions with therapy dogs reduces blood pressure, gives motivation to move, stimulates the senses and provides tactile stimulation.
• It improves self-esteem, lifts moods, often provoking laughter and happiness and acceptance from others.
• Decreases anxiety and assists in helping students work through issues such as anger management and other stressful situations that a child might incur.
• A therapy dog in a school setting decreases the feeling of a sterile environment.
• It lifts the moods of the atmosphere.
The presentation also outlines the goals of a school therapy dog:
• Improves reading skills
• Individual counseling
• Group counseling
• Crisis response team member
• Reading interventions team member
• Promote greater self-esteem in students
• Dealing with trauma and anxiety
• ESS tutoring
• Reading buddy
The estimated cost of training the dog, insurance and other fees was placed at $1,435. The presentation says the school will receive free grooming and veterinarian services.
“MSE is thrilled that our board of education is supporting our therapy dog initiative,” Holley said. “This will be a trial basis for the first year to see how well the program goes.
“As we get closer to welcoming Ellie into our building we will extensively communicate with our MSE families regarding all specifics,” she added. “We look forward to welcoming the newest member of the MSE family and being able to provide new and innovative services to our students.”