Allie — Bryan Middle School

Allie, a golden retriever with a heart of gold, could easily be called the leader of the pack. The award-winning, professionally trained therapy dog was a Christmas gift to the Bryan Middle School student body in December, 2004, and since then people have been sitting up and taking notice of her work with students.

In the mornings, she's a friendly face and a wagging tail that greets staff and students. In the counselor's office, she calmly listens to stressed-out students, and in the library she's a furry friend who doesn't criticize when children mispronounce words. Allie promotes goodwill, tolerance, and hospitality through her positive behavior, says Mrs. Jackie Boyd, Allie’s co-worker and a Bryan Middle School counselor.

The dog's tale was featured in a “Paperbacks for Education” online mailing to educators in February, 2006, and since then, counselors in Texas, Florida, Massachusetts, and Missouri have contacted the Bryan Middle School to ask for details on Allie's workday.

"Nationwide, we've seen a real surge of people understanding the benefit of dogs in people's lives. It's a trend nationally," said Chris Diefenthaler, executive director of Assistance Dogs of America Inc.  Allie was an assistance dog for a man who'd had a stroke, but when he died in 2003, the canine was returned to Assistance Dogs of America. After additional training, Allie was linked with the Bryan Middle School, where students had worked on a service learning project to raise funds for the Assistance Dogs of America.

Although animals have been part of therapy programs, such as in nursing homes, for many years, the school therapy dog program has a different spin, Mrs. Diefenthaler said. "If a counselor's dog comes to the school to visit or to play, it is still the counselor's dog. In this model, the dog belongs to the students. This whole concept is much more powerful and is much more meaningful."

Four schools - Wauseon's Burr Road Middle School, Anthony Wayne's Fallen Timbers Middle School, and two schools in Findlay - are on the Assistance Dogs of America's waiting list for dogs. There is no cost to schools for the dogs. "We don't want the dog to be thought of as any expense or as a program that could be cut," Mrs. Diefenthaler said.

Schools are responsible, however, for the dogs' housing, food, and health care; community support helps pay expenses, and veterinarians donate care for the dogs.

A new component of the dogs in schools program has been added: research to support Allie's successes.

In the next couple of months, a study on school therapy dogs will be conducted by Amber Lange, a doctoral student at the University of Toledo. Counselors who have incorporated dogs into their schools will be interviewed to determine "why they find that having an animal as part of their practice is helpful," said Mrs. Lange, who became interested in research work on human-animal interaction after watching Allie and the two Bryan counselors make a presentation at an Ohio counselors conference.
"When you saw that, you knew that it was helpful. You saw that it touched the kids," Mrs. Lange said.

Partial article reprinted with the permission of The Toledo Blade, March 18, 2007, written by Janet Romaker.