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Power Of A Dog

January 7, 2021

“A dog in school. Can you image that?

“They say a picture is worth a thousand words. I would like to tell you what I see when I see this picture of a dog in school,” said Daleville City Schools teacher Kimberly Henderson. “I see so much more.”

As a student support services teacher for the school system, Henderson is the handler for Cassie, a five-year-old black lab who is one of the area’s first service dogs assigned “full time” to a school.

New this school year to the DCS staff, Cassie is a service dog “trained” to detect the scent of a student who is under stress and to reduce or eliminate disruptive behaviors. “In Cassie I see a village—the Service Dogs of Alabama, Daleville City Schools, staff and community and especially students to name but a very few—all coming together for our children and a dog,” Henderson said.

“I see a way to teach color and texture. A way to exercise muscles that are weak or atrophied. I see a way for children to do ‘physical therapy’ when they think they are playing ball with my Cassie,” Henderson said. “I see a desire to come to school and I see learning taking place where others may only see play time.”

The lessons that Cassie teaches are all encompassing, Henderson said. “Her leash represents a way to teach students responsibility to care for another’s needs and a way to keep students close who want to run away.

“I see responsibility and respect for each other for our fur baby and for people in our school. I see a comfortable and safe place for students when they feel overwhelmed to be soothed enough to learn,” Henderson said. “I see a dog modeling good behavior for children and leading by example because the dog is modeling manners for that child, by sitting nicely, shaking hands and ‘saying’ thank you when given something.”

Henderson said that when she looks at Cassie, she sees a friend for a child who doesn’t have one. “I see a confidant for a child who needs one. I see a study partner, a reading buddy, a warm place with a built in pillow and unconditional love and acceptance.

“But I see a lot more,” she added. “I see a community that came together and gave unselfishly the things that make a classroom a safe haven for some and a source of learning that may not otherwise be so easy, for others.

“Kids learn to express gentle compassion and unconditional love to a dog and others through this program,” Henderson said. “For these and many other reasons, we have discovered the ‘power of a dog.’”

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