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Animals in School

The 2020-2021 school year marks 21 years of Animal Assisted Education at MSAD51.  The first year was a research, planning, and policy year. There was little information and research about therapy dogs in public schools when we started in 1999. Thus, we created a program to meet the unique needs of our students. Jasmine, our first therapy dog, began working with one student in the fall of 2000 as a therapy dog in training. In 2001, Jasmine became the first facilities-based, therapy dog at MSAD 51; serving all students and staff.  During Jasmine's tenure at Greely we continued to learn, evaluate, and identify best practices. This pioneering work became an exemplar from which other schools now use to create their own programs.

 

The COVID-19 pandemic presents new and unexpected challenges to our programing. We have updated our policies to ensure the health and safety of our students, staff, and the therapy dog.

video     

https://vimeo.com/343670239

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The therapy dog is considered a member of the staff.

This designation is part of our animal welfare best practices. In the event that a student maliciously harms the therapy dog in any way, the consequences for such behavior are the same as if the incident involved any other staff member.
Prior to working with the therapy dog a student must be identified as having "safe hands" skills.

As a requirement of our licensing and risk management plan, the therapy dog is bathed within 24 hours of entering a public building.

Dr. Allen, program facilitator and dog handler, has a professional dog wash in her home. She bathes the therapy dog before coming into school. Hypoallergenic shampoo and cream rinse are used to keep the dogs coat healthy and clean. Teeth are brushed and nails clipped! The therapy dog also receives an annual health exam, vaccinations, and medical clearances required for licensing. COVID-19 Risk Management Plan

The animal assisted program is a part of the MSAD 51 Animals in the School Policy.
The school policy, animal welfare practices, and risk management plan provide the essential scaffolding to ensure that our students, staff, and therapy dog are healthy and working to achieve the outcomes related to our mission statement.

Frequently Asked Questions

How do you address concerns regarding dog allergies?

Student safety is our first priority.


We take measures to ensure that students with allergies can be safe in the learning environment. We work closely with our school nurse to determine the best course of action.  Education about dog allergens, allergy management, and the program risk management plan alleviate most concerns.


The risk management plan includes (but is not limited to) daily bathing of the dog, additional HEPA air filters in the classroom, non-fabric seating, and availability of a sink to wash hands. We encourage students with allergies to refrain from petting the dog. If a student with allergies pets the dog we require that they wash their hands. The dog may also be placed in a crate in a space adjacent to the learning space during class as needed. Flexible options are explored as needed.  We have had many students with allergies in the classroom (with the dog) and have not had problems with allergic reactions.  At the high school level, we believe in supporting our students to create a plan for navigating independent life in a dog-centric world. High School is a great place to practice these skills.

What if you have a student or staff member who is afraid of dogs?

Fear is real. First, it's important to understand the nature of the fear... Is it the result of a traumatic experience or something else.  A therapy dog provides a wonderful opportunity to learn that not all dogs are scary or carry disease. This is important as students are likely to encounter service/therapy dogs in public. We aim to be flexible and responsive to meet the needs of our students.

 

At Greely, we offer one-to one and small group education classes with students, parents, and staff that have a fear of dogs.

The class begins with no dog present. Information is shared about the therapy dog program and its placement in the health education classroom. Students and staff are taught a bite prevention curriculum which covers dog body language, vocalizations, and how to approach a dog you don't know.  They may also learn about humane treatment of animals, and canine hygiene if needed. All participants learn the american sign language commands used with the therapy dog. Typically, when the students learn the hand signals they realize that they can control the dog. This sense of control helps them to feel safe during an encounter with the therapy dog. The "Mat" or "Kennel" commands are essential for participants to learn as this gives them the ability to create space from the animal if needed. Participants are given the opportunity to observe the dog with other students from a distance. Participants titrate their exposure to the dog at their speed, when they feel comfortable. It's important that this work be done in a controlled environment with little distraction for the dog and participants. 

I'm pleased to report that most students that had a fear of dogs became friends with the therapy dog and gained new confidence about navigating a dog-centric United States. 

What changes have you made to your practice in response the the COVID-19 Pandemic?

The COVID-19 pandemic presents new and unexpected challenges to our programing. We have updated our policies to ensure the health and safety of our students, staff, and the therapy dog. 

 

Our mission is to engage, inspire, and empower our students. AAE serves as one of many district wide interventions that provide a scaffolding for living the mission and promoting the health and well-being of our students.  We hope to continue this mission during the COVID-19 Pandemic.

In an abundance of caution, we have instituted a "do not pet" policy as part of our risk management plan.  New, "do not pet" patches have be sewn onto the therapy dogs vest to serve as a reminder to students and staff of this change in policy. Additional modifications to our practices are outlined in an updated risk management plan. We continue to follow the Alliance of Therapy Dog policies and procedures, as well as the Animals in the Schools Policy.