Burrell Educators Training Pets to Serve as Therapy Dogs for Students

Pounds & AtticusA Burrell guidance counselor's success with using her goldendoodle as a therapy dog has inspired other educators in the district to train their pets as therapy dogs. 

"I am open to just about anything he can do in order to help kids," said Dan Pounds, a personalized learning coach who is training his one-year-old goldendoodle Atticus to serve as a therapy dog for Burrell High School students.

Pounds is following the lead of Bon Air Elementary School counselor Mary Balich, whose goldendoodle Stella has been serving as an emotional support dog for students at her school. Balich's success in offering her pet to help students relax at school inspired other Burrell educators like Pounds to train their dogs as emotional support animals.

Pounds adopted Atticus as an eight-week-old last year and is now paying to train him as a therapy dog. Goldendoodles, a mix of golden retrievers and poodles, are bred as companion animals with a gentle disposition that is relatively easy to train. Pounds takes Atticus to school some days, but he is not yet able to serve in any official capacity as a therapy dog.

"He's got the temperament for the job," Pounds said of Atticus. "He is very bright. I know that he can do it."

Stewart Elementary School Principal Jim Croushore also is training his one-year-old goldendoodle to become certified as an emotional support dog. His Trixie "is a work in progress" that has received three lessons so far. She must learn the necessary commands and skills to qualify as a therapy dog. For example, Trixie must be able to remain calm in a classroom with students if Croushore is not present.

"I think ultimately I'd like to have her come every day," Croushore said. 

The District has brought in outside agency therapy dogs in the past for elementary reading camps.  Reading to a therapy dog is a great strategy to help a student increase their comfort with reading aloud and improve their reading skills. 

The idea of these therapy dogs is to give students a chance to "take a mindful minute and hug a puppy," Pounds said. If students are anxious about school, stressed about a test, or just need a moment to decompress, these therapy dogs will be available to pet and hug.

"Sometimes kids have a bad day," Croushore said.

The initiative to offer these dogs as therapy animals is supported financially by the educators, who pay to train the dogs and care for them as their own pets.

"He has been incredible for me personally," Pounds said of Atticus. "I want him to be here for students to hug on."

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