Faith Lutheran school gets a comfort dog


We’re accustomed to seeing therapy dogs in hospital, nursing homes and colleges. The comfort they bring make them a natural part of healing.

Now, a local school, recovering from 1 October, decided to add a puppy to its permanent staff.

Guidance counselor Courtney Burns can barely get across school campus without being stopped. 

“I’m finding that getting from the office down the hall takes about 10 times as long now,” she said.

The doggie distraction is 16-week-old golden doodle Esther, the newly appointed comfort dog at Faith Lutheran Middle and High Schools.

“She loves to come to school and she loves to come to work she gets excited to greet the kids,” Burns said.

Esther has already proven herself helping soothe Katie Crowder through a diabetes episode.

“I went to dance class, wasn’t feeling good. So, I just asked if I could see the nurse, but no one was there so I asked if I could play with Esther and she really helped a lot,” Crowder said. “She did her job perfectly.”

Instincts she’s born with, but she’ll go through rigorous training before this becomes a career. Dog trainer Brad Norton expects to spend 18 months to two years getting her ready.

“This is a very unique situation. Very cool because she gets to grow up here and these kids get to watch this.” 

A study out of Yale Innovative Interactive Lab shows dogs on school grounds set a positive welcoming tone. They reduce stress and ease anxiety. Those are just some of the reasons Burns long lobbied for a facility pet. But it wasn’t until a visit from therapy dogs after 1 October that she got the green light.

“I think when you bring a dog around you kind of see the anxiety and the concern come down. It was something that I really wanted to do here,” she said.

In addition to offering ordinary comfort, Esther will be involved in lesson plans as an innovative approach to social-emotional learning.

“These kids have emotional problems, stress whatever it is. The young lady with diabetes, it really helps them out,” Norton said.

This pup will grow up at Faith Lutheran and hopefully offer a life lesson you can’t always learn in the classroom. 

Last year, Norton trained 85 doodles. He says they’re well suited because of their temperament and they hardly shed.

Other schools are closely watching how this program rolls out. If successful, there could be more canine comfort dogs across the valley.

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