It isn’t often that you enter school to the steady rhythm of a wagging tail, but at Pinewood Elementary it happens every day for the students in Mrs. Smith’s classroom.
Therapy dog “Hunter” is beloved by all, but is held in especially high regard by the special education students that have the opportunity work with him and experience the love that only dogs can give.
Mrs. Smith explained that “kids with severe emotional needs on the verge of crisis are de-escalated when they get a wet muzzle on the face or have tears licked from their cheeks.” For some, it seems, Hunter is a veritable hug on four legs with a heart bigger than they can imagine.
For one 4th grader, taking Hunter out for recess provides the security he needs to feel comfortable in a large group of his peers. The support that Hunter lends allows this student to adapt socially in ways he couldn’t alone. Having a dog near him has made going outdoors more fun and less scary. A victory!
Mrs. Smith said this is not unusual — that students who typically don’t enjoy time outside flourish when Hunter’s black, silky coat stands close by. He offers reassurance without words. Petting him allows kids to relax; to take a deep breath.
Hunter has proven so helpful, in fact, that students in Mrs. Smith’s classroom actually earn the right to sit by him while reading or earn the right to take him outside. For many students, that’s a powerful incentive to stay on track while in class. Time with Hunter has become a strong motivator to be respectful and behave appropriately.
Hunter was trained by West Michigan Therapy Dogs and has been used at Pinewood for a year. According to Mrs. Smith, not many other area school use animals as therapy, but she has found the benefits to be undeniable.
“I’ve had a student who so successfully managed his behavior with the help of Hunter that the parents of that student went out and got their own dog to have at home!”
Thank you, Mrs. Smith, for thinking outside the box and approaching the needs of our special education students with creativity and compassion. They are lucky to have you…and Hunter!