BY KAREN GERHARDINGER | MIRROR REPORTER — The dog days of summer have wrapped up, but canines are roaming the halls of all three Anthony Wayne Local Schools’ primary buildings throughout the year.
Last week, Whitehouse Primary School welcomed its first therapy dog, Luna, a 2-year-old golden retriever. During an August 22 assembly, Luna wagged her tail and sniffed as she was introduced by counselor Kate Bailin and music teacher Marlee Clay – two of the four adults trained by Assistance Dogs for Achieving Independence (ADAI).
“She helps with feelings,” Bailin said. Luna got to work immediately, calming a kindergartner who was sad about leaving home.
Laney, a golden retriever working at Monclova Primary, has been doing just that since being placed in the building in 2017.
Sara, Waterville Primary’s longtime therapy dog, retired at the end of the last school year, but she was on hand on August 23 to meet her replacement: an excited golden retriever/Labrador retriever mix named Teila (Tee-La).
Having trained therapy dogs in place at Monclova and Waterville gave Whitehouse a leg up on receiving one, despite the waiting list, said ADAI Client Services Director Jenny Barlos.
“It means the administration and superintendent are familiar with the program, and that makes placing dogs easier,” Barlos said.
A school in another district was set to receive Luna, but administrators decided the timing wasn’t right. With Whitehouse next in line, Barlos called Bailin to ask if she was ready.
“It was a surprise,” said Bailin, who quickly agreed. Over the summer, Bailin, Clay, nurse Laura Soeder and aide Stephanie Letzring took an intensive course on how to best use Luna in the school. Additional teachers will train later this year.
“This expands Luna’s role. We want her to be out and working with as many people as possible,” Barlos said. “We also want her behavior to be consistent, so we require anyone handling her to go through training.”
While Luna is young, her resume includes a year as a “student teacher” at Mohawk Elementary. Her brother Rocky is placed in Bucyrus.
Barlos joked that Waterville’s Teila is a distant cousin to the two siblings. Teila’s two brothers and four sisters are a mixture of blonde and black floppy-eared retrievers. Teila loves working and playing Frisbee and, on Tuesday nights, she helps boys and girls exercise with Agility Angels, said counselor Jillian Cowell.
Cowell, principal Dr. Jamie Hollinger, nurse Val Bradfield, and teacher Courtney Terwilliger are also trained to work with Teila.
In addition to listening to children read or express their feelings, the dogs allow students to earn time with the pets for good behavior, Bailin said.
While Whitehouse Parents Club paid for the cost of Luna, Whitehouse Primary will rely on donations and assistance from the community for ongoing food, veterinary care and other costs, said principal Brad Rhodes. Anyone interested in helping can contact the school at (419) 877-0543.
In 2004, ADAI placed its first dog. Since then, more than 30 have been trained and placed. Some have passed on or retired, like Sara – who still likes to visit, but is too tired for a full-time job.