I am a Bright Spot Therapy Dog named Betty. You may remember my sister Coco, a chocolate lab my parents rescued from Indiana.
She and my mom became a therapy dog team through Bright Spot Therapy Dogs, Inc. Coco worked over 2000 hours at Mom’s middle school (where my mom is the principal), providing comfort and support to the students and staff there. When Mom and Dad brought me home from the breeder (actually, even when they visited me when I was a week old, three weeks old, and six weeks old), they made it very clear that I was expected to follow in Coco’s paw prints and become a therapy dog. I embraced the challenge and continue to work toward one day being as effective as my big sister, Coco, was.
My brother, Jackson (also my litter mate), came to live with us when he and I were eleven months old. He is currently a therapy-dog-in-training, working at Mom’s school as he continues to learn. Jackson and I headed back to school last week.
Jackson and I are so happy to be back working at Mom’s school! Students returned Wednesday, August 30th. Mom reported that several students were asking her when she would be bringing us to school. One student said she felt anxious about being back and was hoping Mom would have a dog at school the first day. Mom decided that we needed to get back to work immediately.
I went to school with Mom the second day of school (Thursday) and Jackson went on Friday.
I also went to school Wednesday and Friday this week, and Jackson went Tuesday. Maggie, the behavior specialist’s golden retriever and another therapy dog in training, also went to school Friday. Mom says we are such integral pieces of students’ school experience that they come to depend on us.
My first day back, a seventh grade boy saw me enter the building and ran over to hug me. Mom asked him to take my leash and walk me down to the behavior specialist’s room.
I was jumpy because I was so excited to be back. Mom apologized, and the student said, I understand, Betty! I am very excited to see you, too! We met up with another seventh grader who was heading to the behavior specialist’s room. I jumped on him and again, Mom apologized. He replied, Oh my gosh!! I am SO happy to see you, Betty!! I understand you are just as excited as I am. When I jumped up, he hugged me tight, and I knew I was right where I was supposed to be, back with my friends.
As Mom says, once you get back to school, it feels like you never left.
My old seventh and eighth grade friends in both the behavior specialist’s room and the therapeutic classroom were so happy to reconnect with me. I met many new sixth graders, as well. My first day back, one sixth grader exclaimed, I get to be in this room AND there are dogs here??? I LOVE this place!! Mom says this student is anxious and was struggling with the transition from elementary school to middle school. I have helped ease that transition for him. He and I are quickly becoming very close. A seventh grader was struggling getting into school the first days back. Seeing me, and knowing he would be able to spend time with me, got him excited about being back. After connecting with me, he was able to get back into the routine of school and to reconnect with his friends.
I spent most of my time this week and last in the behavior specialist’s room, the therapeutic classroom, and the language based classroom.
Students who spend time in these spaces are with their peers for most of the school day, but spend some time in small groups or in one-on-one settings throughout the week. Students who spend time in the behavior specialist’s room, for example, may have anxiety, depression, ADHD, etc. but they are able to attend most classes with their grade level peers. Some need homeroom with the behavior specialist, a break in that room here and there, or a place to take tests. Others need more direct support. Students in the therapeutic program also attend many classes with their peers, but some need more intensive interventions (small group math instruction, for example, or more frequent therapeutic breaks and structured check-ins). Students in the Language Based Program need their English and/or reading instruction delivered in a small group setting by a Language Based teacher. These three programs serve students with different needs, and we have become necessary additions. The adults who work in these programs love dogs and understand the benefits to having us with their students.
Jackson had an equally productive return to school.
His first day back, he was also met by a seventh grader who walked him down to the behavior specialist’s room. He reconnected with his seventh and eighth grade friends, and met many new sixth graders. The sixth graders were impressed that we have more than one dog that comes to school.
Maggie is the behavior specialist’s golden retriever. She comes to school with her mom once a week.
Today, she met a sixth grader who moved to Northborough over the summer. He has had a difficult life so far, and he finds himself living with a relative far away from other family members. The adjustment is difficult for him, but when he met Maggie, he melted. I was busy working with other students in another room at the time, but I hope to meet him next week. Mom says he really needs our support.
We were very busy our first days back.
We were able to take many walks outside with students and support staff. Mom says it is sometimes easier for students to talk to counselors or teachers when they are walking a dog. Additionally, we provide a break from the stressors of the typical school day. Some students are on behavior plans and they earn time with us.
As with any new school year, there are new teachers at Mom’s school. They are amazed that we work at school and think it is wonderful that we are able to provide support to students in that setting. For us, it just is what it is. We do not know anything different, and we embrace our roles as therapy dog
Given how active and playful we are at home together, Mom thinks it is remarkable that we settle down and do such good work at school. We just get it – we understand that there are times to play, and there are times to work. There are students who really need us, and we are happy to be part of their education.
There is a downside to being back to school, though…
We are back to getting our weekly baths and daily brushings, as well as more frequent teeth brushing and ear cleaning! Oh well… it’s part of the deal when you are a working dog. And it is SO worth it!
We are looking forward to a terrific year at Mom’s school! ~Betty