Our Special Friend Gus
By Jane Markham, Consultant Teacher
As a child I always had a dog. When I became an adult I always had a dog. To me, a canine companion is essential for my well being. In recent years I have read more and more anecdotal accounts of dogs helping people in a variety of ways and particularly in schools. After reading in the Westchester Journal about a therapy dog visiting a special program in a school in Carmel I decided to do more research. I discovered amazing things. Scientific studies have proven that stroking a dog decreases heart rate and blood pressure. There are special training programs to teach dogs to listen to children read. Dogs have even helped children to testify in court! The evidence that dogs could help children learn was convincing and I wanted to have a dog in our school.
Initially, I ran my idea past the school social worker, psychologist, nurse and several teachers. They were all overwhelmingly in favor of the idea. Then I approached Ms Epstein who also liked the idea and had many questions about the project. Finally, we consulted Mr. Connors, our superintendent who was also very positive. I wanted a medium sized dog that didn't shed and was hypoallergenic. His or her temperament had to be calm and reliable and of course, the dog needed to be social and like children. I found a breeder in Kentucky who bred Labradoodles that derive from Australia, from a very careful and selective breeding program. Her dogs all fit my criteria and she just happened to have a puppy that she thought would be perfect for me. I thought he was especially perfect because his mother is a certified therapy dog.
Gus arrived at LaGuardia Airport on Friday 29th, 2008 weighing 12 lbs. 6 ounces. The following Monday was his first day of school. It was love at first sight between the children and Gus. He loved all the pats and attention and he soon learned which classroom had treats for him. Gus was patient and relaxed around the children and rarely became over stimulated. He did go through the typical puppy phases of chewing and mouthing but the children learned how to handle themselves with Gus. Now Gus is a year old fixture here at MAS.
This past summer Gus received individual training where he earned the nickname of "smarty pants". And now that Gus is one year old he will soon be certified as a "Therapy Dog". Although Gus is not currently certified he has already been doing lots of good work here in the school. He has helped children who were anxious about separating on the first day of school and children who were ill. Children who are reluctant writers have written letters and poems about Gus. Reluctant readers frequently ask to read to Gus and shy, withdrawn children become eager and animated when he is around. Gus has become my regular assistant as I go through my day as a Consultant Teacher, greeting children and adults alike, spreading smiles and warming hearts, helping the process everywhere he goes.