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Therapy dogs may help lower stress in doctors, nurses in emergency wards

April 9, 2020

Students who attend Riverside Elementary have something warm and fuzzy to look forward to when they return to school next fall.

Kids, get ready to meet Oliver, a mixed-breed golden retriever/poodle pup in training to join the student population for the 2020-21 school year.

Oliver is 11 weeks old and has fast become an adorable member of Riverside Principal Jessica Hughes’ family.

Oliver and all his cuteness overload will be the first therapy dog for the Fond du Lac School District. He is charged with enhancing the quality of life for students and staff, and will be trained to respond to special cues, display a calm disposition and remain polite in different environments and situations, says his trainer Jake Guell.

The puppy was provided to the school through a fund established in January at the Fond du Lac Area Foundation by Dr. Tammy Boudry of Boudry Dental. Bailey’s Gift Fund honors Boudry’s late dog, Bailey, one of Wisconsin’s first certified dental therapy dogs.

Riverside students and staff will be the first to benefit from Bailey’s Gift Fund, which has its own Facebook page. His addition to the school meets Boudry’s mission to provide resources for training and acquisition of service, therapy and facility dog

Oliver came from the same dog breeder as Bailey, Guell said, who operates Tails for Life in Fond du Lac. Goldendoodles are often chosen for therapy work because the mixed breed is said to shed less due to its poodle genetics.

From among a litter of puppies, those that show they are loving, social and laid back are sought as potential therapy dogs, he said. For work in schools, these dogs can offer psychological and emotional support to students and can help kids develop their reading skills.

“When kids read to dogs, dogs listen without any judgment,” Guell said. “Studies have shown how quickly student scores improve when they are reading in front of a dog,”

Hughes, who already owned an Australian labradoodle, said she’d heard great things from other school districts about what was being done with therapy dogs. Last fall, North Fond du Lac introduced a program at Bessie Allen Middle School and Horace Mann High School that allows certified therapy dogs and their handlers into schools for visitations.

Shelby, a mini goldendoodle, joined Journey Charter School in Ripon last year to mingle with students throughout the school, offer emotional support and make a positive impact.

After much research, Hughes said, Fond du Lac school administrators agreed to take the leap.

“We are going to take it slow, starting with a pilot group of students and bring Oliver to school maybe one to three days, maximum, a week,” Hughes said. “Our hope is that he can provide support for students who have social and emotional needs, and help with reading as well.”

A therapy dog would also be an asset when students are preparing to take state exams, to help calm them and alleviate some of the stress during testing days, she said.

The Riverside principal describes Oliver as “a snuggler, very playful and approachable, a pup that is comfortable in his own skin.”

“Right now, he is learning his name and some basic obedience, like how to sit,” Hughes said. “When the time is right, he will go to Jake for more in-depth training.”

Boudry has since added a new therapy dog named Mabel to her staff. She said Bailey’s Fund is working to provide a service dog for a boy with autism, and in the future she hopes a dog could join school resource officers who work with students in the Fond du Lac School District.

“The cards and letters I received from patients after Bailey died truly showed just how much a therapy dog can make a difference in people’s lives,” she said.

Donations to the fund can be made through the Fond du Lac Area Foundation. Boudry Dental offers a free whitening kit and customs trays with every $99 donated to the cause.

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