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Therapy dog helps kids

April 2, 2020

When you walk the halls of St. Pius X Catholic School in Edgewood, there’s a big chance you’ll bump into a four-legged friend.

For over a year, a therapy dog named Clooney has been joining students in the classroom, thanks to Alex Bessler, a teacher at St. Pius.

“I always noticed [my dog] Clooney was so gentle with everybody, whether they were scared or loved dogs,” said Bessler. “I kind of thought to myself, ‘She’s so good with people with disabilities and she’s great with kiddos that are neurotypical. Maybe she could bring the happiness she gives to them to our school.”

Research shows therapy dogs can reduce anxiety in children and improve their learning.

“She comes in here and we’ll work with kiddos that are struggling to read,” Bessler said, who works with children with disabilities. “I think it’s just a non-judgmental person – animal – to be here and listen to them read or their worries or their things that are hurting in their heart, and they leave feeling better after they’ve gotten the chance to sit with her.”

“I have ADHD and I have hard times focusing,” said 6th grader Jay Murphy. “I think she helps me focus. I’ll pet her and then I can stay more focused.”

Clooney also helps students who don’t have any disabilities.

“I feel like she knows when you’re stressed or worried,” said 8th grader Hailey Cogswell. “She’ll come and put her head in your lap and she’s there to calm people down.”

“And also when you’re sad she sometimes can give you cuddles and stuff and snuggle with you,” said first-grader Marnie Aulick. “She’s like a big good girl and she always listens to our grown-ups and stuff.”

Bressler is hoping she can inspire other schools to bring therapy dogs into the classroom, too.

“If you have someone who’s passionate about it, that’s all it takes,” Bressler said. “One person to feel passionate about it and want to incorporate it in a part of their school. I encourage anyone to do it.”

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