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Carlson Elementary School gained a new member of the staff for the spring semester, one with fur and four legs.
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Elliott the therapy dog will be joining her handler, Jenny Pyler, every day at school to spend time with students and staff.
Pyler was awarded an Innovations Grant from the school district in September 2022 so she and her faithful companion could take weekly training sessions toward becoming a certified therapy dog. Elliott earned her Canine Good Citizen certification and her Therapy Dog Certification on Jan. 6, 2023.
Students at Carlson listened to an instructional session on how to interact with Elliott, and they learned some of the expectations for how the pup will exist in their elementary space.
Pyler explained in a letter to the parents that precautions are being taken to make sure this is a safe experience for everyone.
She noted that there will be a “dog only” space for Elliott to separate from kids who are allergic or fearful, there will be extra cleaning and vacuuming at the school, Elliott will be wiped down with anti-dander wipes to help allergies, and children will be instructed to wash their hands after handling the dog.
Elliott has already settled into her first few days of school, and Pyler said she’s fitting right in at Carlson.
“She’s been awesome and the kids seem to be really excited when they first come in the door,” she said.
Heather Aberg is a Licensed Clinical Social Worker and the founder of Resilience 1220. She said that therapy animals can make a huge difference in the lives of children.
“They really bring down anxiety, perhaps anxiety kids don't even realize they feel,” Aberg said.
Aberg went on to explain that a therapy animal, like Elliott, can be a non-judgemental, easy friend to talk to.
“Dialoguing to an animal is so safe,” she said.
As a professional social worker, she also said there are various physical benefits she's seen working with kids and therapy animals, like children sitting with the animal and working to regulate breathing.
For parents looking to continue to support their children’s mental wellness outside of the classroom, Aberg suggested things like mindfulness apps, breathing exercises and using stories to identify emotions and coping mechanisms.
“Let's take care of our emotional health the same way we take care of our physical health,” she said.
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