There are a lot of special students at Sutton Elementary, but there is one who has a wet nose, floppy ears and a furry coat, that stands out from the crowd. That would be Luna, the school’s therapy dog.
Just barely one-year-old, Luna the Golden Doodle works each day with Kristen Tines, Sutton Elementary School Counselor, who just started her tenth year in the position. She recently made it her mission to learn all she could about therapy dogs in schools.
“I felt like my program could use something new and innovative,” she said. “I made some connections with other school counselors, mainly located up north where having a dog at school seems to be fairly common.”
It was then that she took action and presented her proposal to the school’s principal, superintendent and school board. The plan all came together last August when, with the help of the PTO, they adopted Luna as a puppy.
“For all of our students who don’t have a pet at home for whatever reason, they now have a pet,” said Tines.
The hypoallergenic pup is available for students whenever they need her – often comforting those having a rough time. Luna spent the first few days of the school year turning tearful kindergarten faces into smiles and giggles, Tines said.
Luna participates in whole-group classroom guidance and individual counseling. These moments allow the students time with the pup, and they allow her to get more training.
Teachers can request that the four-legged counselor visit their classroom as a reward for good behavior or as a part of a lesson, and the students even help care for Luna by brushing her and filling her water bowl.
“She’s a great tool for teaching subjects like self-control and empathy,” said Tines. “Many students who struggle with behavior at school are big lovers of Luna. Spending time with Luna is used as a reward and is a major motivator for students to be proactive and make good choices throughout the day.”
But it’s not all about the lessons you might expect. Tines said last year the school had a student who was very frightened of storms. As a storm approached one day, his teacher sent him to see Tines and Luna.
“I explained to him that Luna doesn’t really like storms either and that it would be very helpful if he would sit next to her and help her feel safe. This child transformed from a frightened little person to a brave leader who was immediately ready to comfort his furry friend,” Tines said.
And of course, he was invited back any time he feels nervous, because Luna may need his help.
While the reactions to Luna have been overwhelmingly good, Tines was advised by one kindergarten parent that their child wasn’t comfortable with dogs. Tines assured the parent that she’d be very conscious of her feelings and took extra care around the child.
The first time the child’s class visited Luna, Tines offered each of them a chance to pet the puppy, calling them up one by one. The students made comments about how soft and fluffy she was, and when the child’s name was called, Tines got a surprise.
“She jumped right up to come see Luna,” she said. “Even feeling a little nervous, she just couldn’t pass up getting some Luna love.”
She’s quickly become a big part of the school, and after taking obedience classes this summer and practicing her skills, Tines expects Luna’s interactions to only get better.
Sutton Elementary School Principal Danna Johnson agrees.
“Luna has been such a wonderful addition to the Sutton school family,” Johnson said. “She brings much joy to students and staff throughout the school day. With her presence in our school, Luna has made such a positive impact on many students’ lives and hopefully, that impact will be lasting. She is a blessing to us all.”
Tines said, “Welcoming this little four-legged partner into my counseling program has been the best decision I have made in my career.”