Therapy Dogs Introduced to Children at Charter School

Children at the Jumoke Charter School in Hartford, CT, were recently introduced to the concept of therapy dogs as part of the Youth Ambassador K9 Career Program (YAP™). The Introduction to Therapy Dogs presentation was conducted by professional dog trainer Alice M. Quinn, Ph.D., of Allan’s Angels, the Connecticut chapter of Bright and Beautiful Therapy Dogs, a national organization for volunteer therapy dog teams. The Jumoke YAP program is underwritten by the Joan Angela D’Alessandro Memorial Foundation.

YAP is part of the Jumoke School’s daily 45-minute enrichment program, which offers a choice of extracurricular subjects to students at the K-8 school. As one of several program of the Tails of Hope Foundation, YAP seeks to raise awareness among young people about career and volunteer opportunities in the field of working dogs. Therapy dogs, which are used to comfort people in nursing homes, hospitals, hospice, schools, libraries, and even criminal justice situations, are examples of working dogs who contribute to helping those who are frightened or in pain.

“Therapy dogs can go to all sorts of places to calm and comfort people,” reported Quinn, who headed the behavior and training department at Bolton Veterinary Hospital in Bolton, CT, for 17 years. “We’ve had a couple of times that the dog teams became so close to patients that the handler and dog attended the person’s funeral.”

Allan’s Angels also participate in the READ program, which provides dogs to schools and libraries to lend support to kids who are struggling to learn to read. The teams also help adults with physical and mental disabilities and young people in the juvenile justice system.

Several weeks ago Quinn arranged for nine therapy dog handlers to come to the Jumoke Charter School and introduce their dogs to the students. The dog breeds included German Shepherd, golden retriever, cocker spaniel, long-haired Chihuahua, and several mixed breeds. The students, grades 6-8, were joined by Tails of Hope’s founder, Linda Blick, with her own therapy dog, Casey, a Pomeranian rescued from a hoarder. Initially reserved, the kids soon warmed up to their tail-wagging guests. The room brimmed with excitement; several students said, “I am in dog heaven!”

“When Linda invited me to do this presentation to kids, I wasn’t quite sure what to expect,” confessed Quinn. “I approached it as an educational program: this is who we are, what we do, these are the kinds of things that dogs can do. I wanted to tell them about how healing having a dog with you can be in certain environments. So I talked about studies that show dogs can lower blood pressure and heart rate and elevate mood. And I explained to them how we use the dogs to distract people who are maybe having a panic attack or a difficult medical procedure, or maybe are just lonely.”

Quinn reported that the students, most of whom come from a disadvantaged background, were exceptionally receptive. “I think that they were the most polite and curious kids I’ve worked with to date. Before they touched any dog, they asked for permission. The energy in the room was so positive. They were more attentive and into it than groups from more affluent areas.” She said that one boy asked if it was wrong for dogs to fight with one another, so she used it as an opportunity to discuss the cruelty of the dog fighting.

Therapy dogs from Bright and Beautiful are being used in Newtown, CT, in the wake of the shootings. “I was contacted by some people from Newtown who had dogs that were trained as therapy dogs but not yet certified. We coordinated with them to get a chapter set up right away and I’m working with people there to get that off the ground,” she said. “Using dogs from the area makes the most sense because it’s easier to make regularly scheduled visits and it’s less intrusive to their community. The dogs will be used not just in the schools, but in libraries and other community centers, since it’s not just the children who were affected but the entire town.”

Allan’s Angels was named after Dr. Allan Leventhal, the founder of the Bolton Veterinary Hospital, which sponsors Allan’s Angels. Dr. Leventhal, who died of cancer in 2002, believed strongly in the healing power of animals and served as a mentor to Alice Quinn when she herself was dealing with a diagnosis of cancer.

“It took me a couple of years after he passed away and after I got better to get the program off the ground,” she recalled, “but with the help of Bright and Beautiful’s founder June Golden, we were able to set up Allan’s Angels. We started with a few dogs and handlers and now have 60.”

For more information about therapy dogs or Allan’s Angels, contact Alice Quinn at 860-926-4055, alice@ffk9academy.com. For more about Tails of Hope Foundation, go to www.tailsofhopefoundation.org. Information about Bright & Beautiful Therapy Dogs may be found at www.golden-dogs.org. For more on the Joan Angela D’Alessandro Memorial Foundation, go to www.joansjoy.org.

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