I promised last time that this entry would be about puppies. It has been a challenging few weeks in our nation’s schools following the tragedy in Parkland, Florida. So we are going to talk about puppies… and a few older dogs as well.
When you enter El Camino Creek Elementary School, it will not take very long before you come across a four legged furry friend ready to greet you. There are fourteen therapy dogs on the campus ready to read a book with you, calm you down after an incident on the playground, or just sit quietly at your feet while you work on a math problem. You can read all about them and see their bios and stories on the Love On A Leash Wall in the office.
The therapy dog program at El Camino Creek School is part of the Love On A Leash Program. Love On A Leash began back in the 1980s in San Diego County. It has since spread to almost every state in the nation. The program stresses the positive power of pet therapy to provide people of ages with emotional comfort and companionship. These are not service dogs or even trained emotional support animals. Their job is pretty simple and incredibly important. They are there to snuggle, lick your hand, and be your friend. All dogs do go through rigorous training and evaluation to ensure that they are safe with all types of people and settings.
So what is the impact of these dogs? Discipline problems at El Camino Creek seldom occur. Students and staff often take a few minutes to stop and pet a dog whenever they are having a bad day. Students eagerly volunteer to feed and clean up after the dogs. There is a powerful sense of community and connection on the campus that is supported by the dogs’s presence.
Other schools in the Encinitas Union School District are following suit. There are now therapy dogs at two other schools in the District. Starting a program is relatively easy. Schools need the approval of the site administrator. The dog and the handler (usually a school employee) go through training and evaluation. Schools that have a Love On A Leash Program must provide classrooms without dogs for those students who are allergic. Finally, it is important for the school to have procedures in place for access to the pets, cleanliness, and routines for cleaning and feeding that don’t take away from regular instruction.
I don’t know if more dogs in schools can help prevent tragedies like Parkland in the future. But I do know that every student stopping to pet Shadow when entering school that day, walks to their classroom with a smile. Maybe that’s a start.
Here is a great article on therapy dogs: