Therapy Dog Joins Elementary Family
IOWA – At one time, Spartan was just a stray, spending his time outside of a middle school in Burlington. Now, the puppy is on the path of becoming Burlington School District’s first certified therapy dog.
According to an article in the Hawk Eye, Spartan, a fourth-month-old Labrador retriever-mix, first caught the attention of children and teachers when he showed up outside of James Madison Middle School in Burlington. Kent Strabala, a guidance counselor at the school, heard a teacher talking about children playing with a stray.
After seeing how well the puppy reacted with students, Strabala recalled a workshop he attended last spring on the concept of therapy dogs. He decided to adopt the dog and brought the idea to Principal Tim Bolander. Bolander, along with the school board and district administrators was keen on the idea. He gave Strabala the go-ahead to begin training.
Becoming a therapy dog takes time. In fact, Spartan isn’t even old enough to begin the program. Therapy Dogs International, Inc. requires dogs to be one-year-old and pass 12 tests including the American Kennel Club’s Canine Good Citizen Test. The other tests include appearance and grooming, behavior while walking through crowds, reactions to other dogs and sitting politely for petting, to name a few.
For the time being, Spartan spends part of his afternoons at the middle school, when he plays with an array of toys and has his very own bed.
His visits keep him in daily contact with the students and allow him to maintain his love for children, a vital part in becoming a therapy dog.
The goal for Spartan is to be a calming presence, to provide love and support for special-needs students. Interactions with the dog like playing and walking him will be incentives for students to stay focused and have good behavior.
Spartan's presence has already proven to be a success with some. He waits with them when they have to go home sick or sits by their side when it comes time to getting work done.
By going to school, he’ll not only help the students, but also himself. His interactions will help socialize him, a benefit not awarded to strays. He's patient; when students have outbursts he knows how to love and care for them.
Spartan will turn one in August, and thus become eligible to begin testing. For now, Strabala plans to continue the puppy’s obedience training, to better prepare him for the the big day.
Strabala says he hopes that this is a beginning for the future of therapy dogs. He hopes that one day, every school in town will have one.
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