WICSD welcomes its first therapy dog

WICSD welcomes its first therapy dog, Simon
Posted on 12/19/2019


The West Irondequoit Central School District is adding a new member to its counseling staff at Dake Junior High School. His only compensation: Hugs from students, faculty and staff and an opportunity to spread unconditional love and acceptance to everyone he meets. Simon, the district’s first therapy dog, starts his regular shifts in January. The 9-year-old mixed breed will be at Dake 2-3 days a week. He is the family pet of Dake counselor, Ms. Colleen Graham, and will work exclusively with her. She will be with him at all times when Simon is around students.

West Irondequoit joins several other local districts, including Brighton, East Irondequoit, Fairport, Greece, Honeoye Falls-Lima, Palmyra-Macedon, Penfield and Webster, by using therapy dogs. “Our district was approved for a ‘pilot’ therapy dog. That means we must show that having a dog in school makes a difference in the lives of our students,” Graham said. “We expect Simon will help lower our stress levels, help put smiles on our faces and make learning just a little bit easier each day.”

That all aligns with West Irondequoit’s emphasis on improving social and emotional learning.

Simon gained certification as a therapy dog via a multi-step process. Last summer, he passed his Canine Good Citizen test at Lollypop Farm in Macedon, meaning he is well-mannered and good-natured around various people and animals and in different situations. The next step was a Therapy Dog test in Buffalo. Simon needed to perform 13 tests in front of an evaluator to pass. He showed he could:

  • Walk past food without eating it
  • Walk past another dog without issue
  • Remain calm amid kids running and screaming

There were other challenges, but Simon passed on the first try.

Therapy dogs are allowed in schools, hospitals and nursing homes to give comfort. The presence of a dog can facilitate a trust-building experience between the counselor and student. That, in turn, allows for more targeted work during their time together. Research has shown that the physical act of petting a dog can have a calming influence on the student. Another reason WICSD counselors think Simon’s presence can be beneficial: During times of grief, illness and trauma, dogs provide comfort and unconditional love – two things most needed in crisis situations. 

What if students are allergic to or have a fear of dogs?

Students received an opt-out form and should return it to the main office at Dake. If a student is afraid but still wants to have a chance to conquer that fear, the student along with their parent/guardian should contact Ms. Graham to find out more. She can be reached at colleen_graham@westiron.monroe.edu.

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