They work like dogs
Basehor-Linwood ahead of its time with
The note came to Basehor
Elementary school counselor Ellen Knight from a
group of students: "We would like to know if we can
read to Bailey? Is this a good time?"
Bailey is one of the
staff at the school, but she couldn't care less
about reading mistakes. Her salary is paid in treats
and affection, and although she has a generous
retirement plan, it doesn't cost the district a
dime. To Bailey, it's all about the attention she
gets having kids sitting around on her bed. But to
the students, Bailey is a friendly, non-judgmental
Bailey is a yellow
Labrador retriever, one of four therapy dogs in the
Basehor-Linwood School District. The job of a
therapy dog is to help humans feel better. The dogs
have long been used in nursing homes, hospitals and
with psychiatric patients to assist in therapy.
The use of therapy dogs
in schools is just now becoming popular as a
cutting-edge tool to assist school counselors with
lessons, reading and helping students cope with a
myriad of issues from depression to grief
counseling. Basehor-Linwood was one of the pioneers;
the district has been using therapy dogs for 11
Hunter, the first
therapy dog in the district, began his career at
Linwood Elementary with Marilyn McGown, who is the
counselor at Linwood and the Basehor's Sixth Grade
Center. McGown read about therapy dogs and contacted
an organization that trained them in Washington,
McGown presented her
idea to the school board, telling them she would
take responsibility for the dog, its food and all of
its medical care. "It was really risky for the
school board to approve back then because we didn't
know of anyone else using therapy animals in
schools," she said.
The school board
approved McGown's request and Hunter is thought to
be the first therapy dog to be used in a school in
the state of Kansas.
Knight completed the
thesis for her master's degree on therapy dogs while
working for another district. She bought Bailey from
a breeder who socialized the dog through training
for dog shows. She brought Bailey with her when she
joined Basehor Elementary. Connie Weltha joined the
district as a counselor when Glenwood Ridge
Elementary was added several years ago. Her therapy
dogs are two golden retrievers, Bo and Chip.
All of the dogs have to
be tested for good temperaments, specially trained
and certified as AKC Good Citizens and socialized
before they take their full-time positions in the
The counselors all say
there are many uses and benefits of having the dogs
in the schools. Among other things, the dogs are
used to help students cope with depression or
"I had a young man who
suffered from panic attacks," said Weltha. "He would
come in and all he needed to say was that he needed
some `Chip Time'; I wouldn't even have to talk to
him, he would go and sit with Chip and be fine."
The dogs are also used
in helping the counselors deliver different lessons
to the students. The lessons at the first of the
year begin with how to treat and respect animals.
The counselors deliver two lessons to each class
every month. Last week, the lesson given to students
was on choosing a career and diversity.
The students in the
third-grade class at Basehor Elementary compared the
dogs' differences and similarities. They also
discussed the dogs' careers and what would best suit
each dog based on its personality. The children then
evaluated their own personalities to suit different
The idea for therapy
dogs in schools is spreading. Steve Woolf, principal
at Tonganoxie Middle School, said there are many
districts throughout the state now using therapy
dogs. The Tonganoxie School Board will review this
summer whether Woolf can use River, a black Labrador
already specially trained by Cares Inc., a Kansas
company that now trains therapy dogs specifically
for schools. River obeys 43 commands and has been
socialized and tested for work with children.
"I teach part-time at KU
and I've already taken River to class and he really
works the classroom," said Woolf. "I'm really
looking forward to it, and our special education
teacher and counselor is really pumped."
Another use for therapy
dogs in schools is to help children cope with the
loss of a pet or a loved one at home.
"For kids who have lost
a pet, just to sit with the dogs at school is
wonderful," said Weltha.
The counselors realize
that one day they will have to deal with their own
grief over the loss of their therapy dogs, as well
as help the students deal with theirs. Hunter is now
13 and already endured a life-threatening illness
last year. All three elementary schools raised money
for his veterinary bills.
"It will be hard because
we are usually the ones to do the grief counseling,"
Knight added, "But it
will be OK, because it's what happens in life and
everyone will be supportive because everyone is
vested in the relationship" with Hunter.