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Teacher’s Therapy Dog

May 28, 2020

A new therapy dog might welcome Furry Elementary students back when school reopens.

At a recent virtual public meeting, Furry Elementary teacher Pam Shirtz asked officials about having her golden retriever, Charlie, available to students needing support during the pandemic. Charlie completed rigorous testing through the Pet Partners organization to become a certified therapy dog. He’s also privately insured, so Perkins Schools wouldn’t have to insure him, Shirtz said.

“We know that students will be returning with many anxieties that dogs have been proven to calm and help them focus,” she said in an email. “I have witnessed this in the classroom, accelerating students’ learning and confidence in reading and other subjects.”

In recent years, Shirtz’s students have read to Stein Hospice’s Paws Up therapy dogs in Furry Elementary’s library.

School board president Jason Dulaney said he believes therapy animals are useful.

“For that reason, I would advocate for one dog per building used by our counselors because they’re most equipped to address those needs of our students,” he said. “I’m open-minded and flexible to change that stance if there’s data that shows otherwise.”

Superintendent Todd Boggs agreed with Dulaney’s idea but wants to research it more.

“I know that it has a positive effect, but I know there’s a lot of concerns that we have to take into consideration,” Boggs said. “Especially now, I’m not a doctor — we would have to look at cleanliness with COVID-19 and if dogs are carriers (of the virus). But I know they have a positive effect on kids.”

Board member Brad Mitchel said Perkins Schools should have a policy for therapy dogs going into schools.

“When something is new and innovative, it’s good to do research and have a policy,” he said. “What we don’t want to see is every teacher have their dog trained, and it would be a free-for-all to bring their animal into the schools. I don’t have anything against animals — I think therapy dogs can be vital to some kids, but I don’t think they should be used in a random manner. There has to be limits on everything. Some kids are afraid of dogs, so we always have to consider that. It’s something we’ll look at in the future, see what the demand is and go from there.”

Recognizing Perkins’ class of 2020

Switching gears, board member Ted Kastor proposed dedicating a plaque to Perkins’ Class of 2020, who, like all graduating seniors, couldn’t finish their last year of high school normally due to the coronavirus crisis. He wants to donate money for it, too.

“The seniors were robbed of memorable events and traditions by this pandemic,” he said. “I’d like to have something where people can remember 2020 and the graduates that endured this hardship and (have it) displayed in the high school for everyone to see in years to come.”

Dulaney also liked the plaque idea.

“I would like to donate to that as well,” he said.

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