OWASSO, Okla. — Oklahoma school counselors got a lesson in pet therapy Tuesday and how it is helping students in one Oklahoma school district particularly as students recover from the impact of the pandemic.
Leaders from Morris Public Schools gave a presentation on their newly launched dog therapy program at Tulsa Tech in Owasso. They say the program is a big success.
“Kalani knows her job right from the start. She reports to the gym every morning at 7:45 a.m. and she gets on duty. She knows that her kids are in the gym. She’s going to greet them and sit with them,” said Becky Alexander, Morris Elementary School principal.
When school counselor Kelli Baker came up with the idea, she reached out to a breeder who was having a hard time selling Kalani. When the breeder heard about Baker’s mission, they donated her.
Kalani joined the school in October 2021 and Shadow enrolled in December 2021.
“Coming off the pandemic we saw that a lot of kids had a lot of social and emotional learning to do and we decided we wanted to address that," Alexander said."We’ve been seeing a lot of positivity. The smiles just walking in and just seeing the 'Hi Kalani. Hi Shadow.' It brightens their day and motivates them to come to school.”
School leaders say it has also helped students deal with anxiety and depression. They say it’s not just benefiting students but teachers are enjoying them too.
“They will sit 5 to 10 minutes when they’ve had a stressful day or a stressful hour, and it just kind of resets. It just makes everything kind of calm down and it’s going to be okay,” said Lisa Merrill, Morris Elementary School librarian and Shadow's handler.
With the success of the program, they shared with counselors from other districts how to implement one of their own.
“I am actually working on my dog being a therapy dog. So it was really encouraging to me to have a smaller school, a rural school in our area come and have three women who support this and get us all excited. So of course I am excited about bringing it to Union,” said Debbie Greever, Union Public Schools Counselor.
School leaders agree… if it helps the students, they support it.
“The kids are worth it. No matter what, students are worth it and the benefits behind it will show their success on its own,” Alexander said.
The therapy dog program is funded almost entirely through donations.
In fact, a McK9 fundraiser at McDonald's in Okmulgee Monday night brought in $1,000 to help pay for the program in Morris.
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