Therapy dog brings comfort to students
Newfoundland Ellie helps children at Washington Elementary for the first time
Special needs children at Washington Elementary School were surprised earlier this month with a visit from a new friend.
A Newfoundland named Ellie, a trained therapy dog, made her first visit to Washington on Wednesday, Dec. 14, in order to comfort students with special needs. Her owner, Kathy Weber, teaches art at Boyertown Area Senior High, and has been bringing Ellie there to help students for the past ?.
“I heard the students had a
great response at the high school,” said Washington Elementary Principal Christopher Iacobelli, who encouraged Mrs. Weber to bring Ellie to his school. “I knew your students would also respond positively.”
Ellie came into Mrs. Carpenter’s support class first that morning, as students went up to meet and pet her one-by-one. Students took turns asking Mrs. Weber questions about Ellie, practicing speaking and communication skills.
“I think that the dog will bring down their anxiety,” said Special Education Teacher Beth Carpenter. “Children with autism sometimes have anxiety about social situations and language deficits. They have a chance to talk, make eye contact with the dog, as well as keep their emotions in check.”
The school has plans to have Mrs. Weber and Ellie visit more often, and wants to have students practice reading and interacting with the dog.
“It will bring the children a sense of calmness and something to look forward to,” said aide Christine Grosser.
After meeting with Mrs. Carpenter’s students, Ellie continued to walk the halls, as teachers and their classes took a break to come and greet her as she walked by.
“I love how much they make people feel good, I really do. I bring the dogs into the high school, and the students, they’re are all over them just like little kids.” said Weber.
Weber has trained Ellie since she was a puppy, for almost six years now. She also has another therapy dog named Tucker, who is also frequently at the senior high school. Weber has had him for nine years.
Weber mentioned some of the training she did with her dogs, explaining that it was important to get them around people from very early on, so they’re not afraid or scared by new situations.
Both Ellie and Tucker were also tested through Therapy Dog International, which required the dogs to pass several different behavior and obedience exercises.
“I’m very proud of them at the high school when we walk through the jammed halls, and they’re fine with that.” she said.
At the high school, Ellie and Tucker are usually with Weber in her art classes. They sit with students doing reading testing and often comfort life skills or emotional support classes.
Weber also takes her dogs to comfort patients at Reading Hospital, in addition to other nearby rehab centers and nursing homes.
“I think they just make people feel better,” said Weber. “Petting the dogs, and loving them, brings comfort and happiness.”
Support students took turns talking with Ellie and petting her.
Ellie visits the life skills classroom, comforting students with emotional support as well as their teachers.
Students in Mrs. Carpenter’s support class ask Mrs. Weber questions about Ellie.