Therapy Dogs Help Students Relax, Refocus
Rewarding. That’s how I describe traveling our community with the dogs who are part of the 17th Judicial Circuit Court Therapy Dog program. The program includes 17 certified therapy dogs. The dogs and their best friends – their owners – are all volunteers and work at the Winnebago County Courthouse, Family Peace Center and Carrie Lynn Children’s Center.
This school year the dogs have become regular visitors at a handful of RPS 205 schools.
The visits started at East High School. I met East Principal Jim Parker years ago when he was principal at Washington Elementary School. At the time, I ran the robotics program at Washington.
Jim called at the start of the school year to ask a favor: Come to East with a therapy dog to offer emotional support to students and staff. The East community benefitted from their time with my dog Remington, who everyone calls Remi. Soon after our first visit, Mr. Parker invited us back. This time he asked if we would commit to visit East every other week. Each visit, we make sure we spend time with special education students. It’s a great opportunity for students to see and pet a safe dog.
We now visit Guilford High School every other week – after an initial visit request from Principal Gus Carter.
It is rewarding to witness the change a therapy dog can bring within a matter of minutes. Here’s just one story:
We worked with a Guilford student a few weeks ago who was visibly upset. I asked the student if they have any animals at home.
With permission, Remi cuddled up next to the student; it was the student’s first time petting a dog. After 15 minutes, the student was calm, refocused, and able to return to class.
The student made a point to find Remi after school to thank us saying, "I really appreciated you being there."
Last month, three therapy dogs from the program began supporting students and staff at Auburn High School. Now they are weekly visitors. The therapy dogs always start their visit in the Auburn library, then walk to the main office and the nurse’s office.
Elementary students are benefitting from the program, too. We were recently at Lewis Lemon Elementary School following a request to work with fourth grade students and staff. We’ve also made multiple visits to support Conklin Elementary School.
Principals have shared that they feel an overall progress has been made in their schools. Students seem calmer, and there’s less tension. I have received notes from parents thanking us for the positive impact the program has had on their child. The program – and support from our dogs – extends into students’ home environments.
The dogs deserve some of that credit.
Bruce Erickson is the executive director of the 17th Judicial Circuit Court Therapy Dog Program.
- Auburn High School
- Conklin Elementary School
- East High School
- Family & Friends
- Guilford High School
- Lewis Lemon Elementary School