Ther­apy dog brings com­fort to stu­dents

New­found­land El­lie helps chil­dren at Wash­ing­ton Ele­men­tary for the first time

The Boyertown Area Times - - FRONT PAGE - By Har­ri­son Otto hotto@berksmont­news.com

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.”

HAR­RI­SON OTTO — FOR DIG­I­TAL FIRST ME­DIA

Sup­port stu­dents took turns talk­ing with El­lie and pet­ting her.

HAR­RI­SON OTTO — FOR DIG­I­TAL FIRST ME­DIA

El­lie vis­its the life skills class­room, com­fort­ing stu­dents with emo­tional sup­port as well as their teach­ers.

HAR­RI­SON OTTO — FOR DIG­I­TAL FIRST ME­DIA

Stu­dents in Mrs. Car­pen­ter’s sup­port class ask Mrs. We­ber ques­tions about El­lie.

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