SalemNews.com, Salem, MA

Local News

May 27, 2013

Student's best friend

Cove School seeking therapeutic service dog

BEVERLY — When Cove Elementary School teacher Jennifer Bent visited a residential home for children, she couldn’t help but notice the calming influence of a black Labrador retriever in the house.

“I saw how the dog interacted with the children and how the children interacted with the dog, and was blown away,” she said.

As a special education teacher, Bent began wondering if a well-trained dog could perform a similar service for students at the Cove School.

Toward that goal, the school has embarked on a campaign to raise $9,500 to buy a therapeutic service dog from National Education for Assistance Dog Services.

The dog would live with Bent and work every day with students at the Cove, which houses a district-wide program for children with autism and another for students with social, emotional and behavioral challenges.

“The kids are really excited to be a part of it,” Bent said.

Having a service dog as part of a school’s daily routine encourages respect, responsibility and empathy among students, Bent said, and decreases anxiety around school work.

She pointed to two studies in USA Anthrozoos, which publishes studies on the interactions of people and animals, that said the presence of a service dog improved social interactions and decreased negative behavior among students with emotional disorders.

Bent said a service dog could greet a student who is anxious about going to school and walk to class with the student. Students who have trouble initiating conversation could use the dog as a starting point for speaking with other children.

Bent said students who have suffered emotional or physical trauma might be more likely to share things with a dog rather than people, so they could write a note to the dog and stick it in its backpack.

Cove School Principal Lisa Oliver called Bent’s idea for a service dog “fantastic.”

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