There is a saying about teaching old dogs new tricks. Some people say you just cannot do it—but what if you send them to school?
Six dogs attend school alongside students at Denver’s Bruce Randolph School. They are therapy dogs, there to help kids cope with anger, addiction, and just the stress of being at school.
“It’s really scary for our students to connect with a human being, because they’ve lost trust with human beings, and a lot of them have been abused and mistreated,” said Amanda Ingram, a substance abuse and mental health therapist at Denver Health, who works with kids at Bruce Randolph. “With a therapy dog, it’s a lot less scary.”
Ingram brought the idea to Bruce Randolph principal Cesar Cedillo three years ago. She had been training a black lab, Pauletta, to be a guide dog for the blind. Things did not work out.
“It’s really the perfect job for her, because she was supposed to be a guide dog for the blind, and she hates walking so I think she was like, ‘This isn’t what I was made for , I’d rather cuddle with people.’”
Not only did Pauletta become a therapy dog, she was an inspiration to teachers at the school to get their dogs trained as therapy dogs. There are six dogs at Bruce Randolph.
“In the first year 65 percent of the kids I worked with got sober, 100 percent of their symptoms went from severe to mild,” Ingram said. “If someone gets referred to me for anger management, I’ll have that student teach her a trick, and they can practice their anger management skills because teaching her the trick is going to get frustrating.”Students have been enjoying their time with the dogs.“Every school should get a therapy dog,” said Jovan Tolbert, and 8th grader at Bruce Randoph. “The dogs help us out with our anger—they’re very playful.”Tolbert’s teacher, Shelly Martin, has also seen a difference in classroom behavior.“Having responsibility for something other than themselves—they’re accountable for the care of these dogs, they’re accountable for making sure they’re safe,” Martin said.Ingram said she hopes other schools with adopt a therapy dog program. She said the success goes far beyond behavior improvements.“We’ve got kids that are choicing into our school because we have therapy dogs,” Ingram said.