Going to see the dogs doesn’t have to be a bad thing.
On Monday, the Warren County School Board’s Curriculum, Instruction and Technology Committee discussed introducing therapy dogs and facility dogs to the district.
Special education has been an area of growth and challenge for the district.
Since 2008, the Warren County School District has lost approximately 1,300 students, from 5,313 to 4,017. This approximately 25% drop in enrollment has not been accompanied by a corresponding reduction in educational needs. specials.
In the 2020-2021 school year, there were more students in the district identified with special educational needs (901) than there were in 2008 (891).
The percentage of students with special educational needs increased from 16.8% to 22.4% of enrollment during the same period.
At Monday’s meeting of the school board’s curriculum, instruction and technology committee, Director of Student Services Dr. Patricia Mead spoke about the special education successes the district was able to realize as well as the challenges that the district and its teachers face.
The possibility of dogs playing a role in the district’s special education program has come to light recently.
“The school community has recently suffered traumatic events, and this has had a lasting effect on our students and staff,” said Mead. “In response to the recent event, the district organized postvention services that included community providers and collaboration with two therapy dog organizations. The recent collaboration with the Therapy Dog Organization has provided the district with the opportunity to directly observe the positive influence of a therapy dog on the school climate.
The district launched a survey and received over 400 responses.
A strong majority — 73% — “I think having therapy and/or facility dogs at our school would help reduce stress and anxiety,” said Mead.
“I would like to set up therapy dogs this spring and installation dogs in the fall”, she said.
New Hope Assistance Dogs would bring dogs in training as therapy dogs to schools. The program would be mutually beneficial and neither party would pay the other, Mead said.
Unlike familiar service animals, a therapy dog interacts with people other than its handler while it works.
“A certified therapy dog provides comfort and affection, and its handlers are volunteers who visit hospitals, schools, nursing homes, hospices, libraries and other facilities,” said Mead. “These therapy animals have no special rights and must have permission from the facility to visit.”
“Therapy dogs serve a different helping role than service dogs and emotional support animals,” she said. “Their responsibilities are to provide psychological or physiological therapy to people other than their handlers. These dogs have stable temperaments and friendly, easy-going personalities. Unlike service dogs, therapy dogs are encouraged to interact with a variety of people while on duty, including petting the therapy dog.
“The foster dogs are regularly present in a residential or clinical setting”, said Mead. “A facility dog is a dog that uses its particular skills and training in animal-assisted interventions to help providers achieve specific treatment or program goals.”
There are similarities and differences between establishment dogs and therapy dogs.
“A facility dog is like a therapy dog, but unlike a therapy dog that may visit patients or residents of the facility accompanied by its handler for a few hours a week, a facility dog works full-time in the facility under the care and supervision of a staff member.
A service dog would be purchased by the district.
When asked how much it might cost, Mead said the details hadn’t been worked out, but she thought the board would be pleasantly surprised by the amount.
The committee and board members encouraged Mead to continue his discussions and provide more details to the board in the future.
“I’m looking forward to some samples” said committee chairman Joe Colosimo.
“An audition,” said Superintendent Amy Stewart.
“I can program this” said Mead. A preview was part of the talks and New Hope has previously talked about bringing a dog to a school as a sample.