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Therapy dog keeping Cork students and teachers connected

April 1, 2020

As schools remain closed in line with the latest restrictions announced by government, students from a local special needs school are enjoying daily check-ins with their therapy dog.

Begley has been helping both children and staff at St Mary’s Special School in Rochestown for over a year.

Begley usually visits the school each Friday, and sometimes works some extra shifts on days where particularly stressful situations might arise for an individual.

Since the school’s closure to 64 students and 25 staff, Begley has been keeping in touch with the students through an online blog where both students and staff can send in messages for posting on the site.

Begley lives with teacher Sandy Johnston who has been running the blog on a daily basis.

School principal, Kerri Hollywell, said that as soon as the school closed, Begley started his blog on the school website as the point of contact between staff and students while they were out of school.

She said that the take up of students getting in touch every day has increased since the creation of Begley’s blog.

She said that having a therapy dog is a distraction for these children and also helps them to remain calm in certain situations, something these children are now missing out on.

“It’s about the connection for a lot of students, especially children with special educational needs. School is a routine and a structure for them and that’s all gone. I think that even if perhaps they don’t enjoy it when they’re there, it’s a really tough time for a lot of students to not have that now. So really our biggest thing was to maintain a connection between the staff, and the students, and the school,” she said.

In the run up to the school’s closure Begley came into the school more frequently, encouraging children to wash their hands more often after stroking him and taking breaks in the fresh air.

“It is an anxious time for everyone,” Ms Hollywell said, adding that Begley usually acts as the middleman in conversations with children, helping with stressful situations and being a calming distraction when children are having a difficult time.

She said that it is a particularly difficult time for children with complex needs and for children who need and are accustomed to routine and structure.

“The children in St Mary’s have been diagnosed with learning disabilities, and other more complex diagnoses as well, so some of them found it hard to understand the situation. You can imagine the anxiety that we’re all feeling and our understanding is relatively good so he was really calming in that period in the run up to the school closure.”

Begley continues to help with the children by connecting with them and supporting their learning from a distance.

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