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A little over a year ago I started with the RSU 16 nursing department. I can still remember when the administration inquired about the possibility of a therapy dog program. I knew it was doable, but I wasn't entirely sure I wanted to be the one doing it. However, I agreed to see what I could put together. A few months later, with appropriate procedures and documentation, certifications and training in place, my 7 year old chocolate lab Kai was able to begin her job at Poland Regional High School.
I quickly found that she took to this role like a fish to water. Despite my initial concerns, Kai not only wasn't more work for me, she actually took work off my hands. Students that used to come in with anxiety and depression, anger and stress suddenly discovered the resource that she is. They could come in, pet and interact with her, tell her their worries, fears, stressors and anxieties and within 10 minutes they’ll be ready to go back to class. Other students who had significant stressors, but not the ability to communicate them appropriately, found a voice in Kai that gave them the courage to speak up and get the help they need. Students with concerns regarding their own self-care have conversations with us that incorporate suggestions regarding Kai’s own similar needs, and this allows them to not only learn about appropriate self-care but also begin to model and demonstrate improved responsibility for themselves and those around them after helping care for Kai.
We ended the year on what I felt was a high note and on our return to school many students frequented the nursing office asking about her timeline for reentry, and wanting to share their stories from the summer with her. Interestingly, Kai displayed how much she had missed them as well. Whenever I would get home at the end of the day she would give me a thorough investigation, sniffing me all over and appearing excited about when she’d return.
I'm hoping I've conveyed the significance of this program and hoping we continue to have the opportunity to improve our students experience with this simple, gentle option for our students and even our staff. I’d lastly like to share some comments from our time last year with the therapy dog program.
“It was a stress/anxiety reliever for several of my students to visit with Kai, even if it was a quick hello in the lobby as they passed by. It was also a pleasure to have her join us at our Math Learning Area meeting - she is welcome anytime!”
“We loved her visits in IT!”
“LOVED the canine visits - my students spoke of the calming effect it had to be able to see the pooch and pet her. I LOVED having time to see her and pet her as well. Loved seeing her in the building.”
“My kiddos loved Kai. Some of my higher anxiety and introverted kids said petting her made them feel calm. One student said her house is chaos from small siblings, and the older kids don't get a lot of attention, and having Kai go up to her to get petted made her feel important and wanted. Of course, I LOVED having her come into our meetings, something about petting a calm animal just brings the blood pressure down. Hope they keep the program going.”
“Oh, please continue this program!! Kai is amazing!”
“I think Kai brought people together that wouldn't ordinary come in contact until they petted her together. Kai brings smiles and happiness to people that seek comfort through the unconditional love of animals. I think it was great.”
“The K9 program was a useful resource for the Reach program last year. For one particular student a visit to Kai was a behavioral motivator. A walk to visit Kai at the nurse’s office was really beneficial for him as reward for focusing, as a movement break, and to eliminate him from the room as a distraction for the other students when necessary. Kai also came to visit our program a couple of times too, and it really seemed to help the students release anxiety and tensions.”
“I wish had used it for My AP stats kids more. College level courses can be stressful”
So, with all this information, please don’t hesitate to reach out to the nursing office, or send me an email at email@example.com, with any questions or concerns. I’m happy to help with this program in any way I’m able, and have been grateful for the last year’s impact Kai has had on our students.
Melanie Judd, RN-CBN
1457 Maine Street, Poland, ME 04274
Phone: (207) 998-5400
Fax: (207) 998-5060