The therapy dog program at Palmer Elementary School is expanding, not just in number but in generations as well.
Four-month-old Black Lab puppy Winnie is now roaming the halls of the school, learning what it takes to serve the students and work into a full-time rotation with her older siblings Riley and Gracie.
“She’s learning how to go up and down stairs, how to greet people appropriately, and people are learning which commands to give,” said Winnie’s mom and teacher Rhonda Ashley, a Curriculum Instructor/AIS Service Provider at Palmer. “Kids love puppies and they’re seeing her training. They realize she’s learning just like they are.”
Winnie is already helping students with their reading. Dogs can help relax students and allow them to make mistakes in a non-judgemental atmosphere, leading to progress in literacy. It’s a job Winnie’s siblings have been doing for years at Palmer. You can read more about that here
Once Winnie grows into handling a more full-time schedule, she, Gracie and Riley will allow Palmer to have two therapy dogs in the building all day, every day.
“The plan is to have one in (social worker) Sandra Romano’s room all day. We’ll have two in the building all day,” said Mrs. Ashley.
When Winnie passes her certifications and physical clearances, Mrs. Ashley plans to breed her and train Winnie’s puppies as service dogs. Mrs. Ashley is planning to use Windsor families and staff to foster the puppies during their training.
Once that training is complete, Winnie’s puppies can be placed with veterans suffering from Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder, people with diabetes, those on the Autism spectrum, those with visual impairments and other who may need a service dog.
“Service dogs can cost tens of thousands of dollars. This could be a way to get some to those more cost effectively,” said Mrs. Ashley.
Winnie, meanwhile, will spend her career as a therapy dog at Palmer. For now, her schedule is packed with school - her time at Palmer and puppy classes.
“She needs to learn how to socialize with other dogs,” said Mrs. Ashley.
She seems to be doing just fine with humans.