“There’s been a rise in social/emotional issues in this district and in other districts. This is one way to be proactive,” Oliver said. “Jenn’s really passionate about it.”
Oliver said a service dog would benefit all students in the school, not just those in special education programs. Bent said the dog could be used as a motivator, with a class getting a visit from the dog as a reward for good behavior or academic performance.
“As the whole process has evolved, we really want it to be an opportunity for all children and not just the children who face challenges,” Oliver said.
John Moon, director of programs and communications for National Education for Assistance Dog Services, said more schools have been incorporating service dogs as classrooms have become more inclusive. The organization has placed service dogs in 12 schools throughout the Northeast over the last three years, he said.
“A lot of teachers are using the dog as a learning device,” Moon said. “For a student with reading challenges, it’s a lot easier to read to a dog. A dog’s not going to be critical or laugh when a word is mispronounced.”
Moon said the organization has a waiting list of 70 people looking for assistance dogs, ranging from combat veterans to children with a physical disability to people who are deaf.
He said it’s important to find the right match between the dog and the client. Black or yellow labs often make the best classroom dogs, he said.
“You’ve got to have a dog that’s very calm and very patient,” he said.
The Cove School must raise the money to purchase a trained dog from National Education for Assistance Dog Services, a nonprofit that provides assistance dogs. Bent said the cost to NEADS for a dog is $25,000, but the organization requires only a one-time fee of $9,500 from their clients.