Archive for Friday, February 1, 2002

Dogs help with counseling at schools

February 1, 2002

Using dogs in counseling sessions with students was once unique but now it is standard practice at the three Basehor-Linwood School District elementary schools.

Counselors at Basehor and Glenwood Ridge elementary schools already had dogs in place for counseling, and the Basehor-Linwood School Board recently approved the use of another dog at Linwood Elementary School.

Connie Weltha, LES counselor, recently introduced her dog, Chip, a golden retriever into the elementary school.

Thus far, the dog has been a hit among students, she said.

"He's been out with the kids and I've had kids in my room that haven't been there before," Weltha said. "I've talked to kids that have never spoken to me before."

The dogs are brought into the schools to make students feel more comfortable during counseling sessions, GRE counselor Marilyn McGowan said.

"They're mainly used as a catalyst for children to talk," McGowan said. "(The dogs) show unconditional love because they accept children no matter what.

"Every kid feels like the dog loves them."

McGowan was the first of the school district counselor to use a dog for counseling purposes. McGowan's dog, Hunter, a yellow lab, has been a fixture throughout the school district for the past seven years.

"It has a calming effect," she said. "Research has shown that petting a dog has a soothing effect."

BES counselor Ellen Knight also uses a yellow lab, Bailey, in dealing with students and parents.

"Students as well as parents are more willing to come in," Knight said. "Everybody stops in to see Bailey."

Knight said a dog could help break the ice in building a relationship with a student that may not want to be involved in counseling.

Pets have been used to offer emotional support in settings such as hospitals, nursing homes and schools. It is a practice that is becoming more prevalent across the country, Knight said.

"I think it is growing," she said. "As we see in nursing homes and hospitals, using pets is becoming more accepted."

Before using them in schools, the dogs must go through several obedience and socialization classes, and most times the counselors are involved in the sessions.

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