Teachers-to-be get their hands on therapy dogs

Nearing the end of master's program, students tensions were running high

Photos/Charles A. Radin

Students listen to owner Laura Rice talk a bit about her three certified therapy dogs, including Promise, whose rear paws were paralyzed in an accident.

Education lecturer Leandra Elion

Lecturer Leandra Elion’s students were serious. Very serious. Just days away from graduating with a master of arts degree in teaching (MAT), they were stressing about completing requirements and, of course, the uncertainty of what comes next.

But in walked a family of long-haired Dachshunds – Zebedee, 11; Lilly, 9; and Promise, 7 – and a cacophony of oohs, ahhs and awws echoed around the Abraham Shapiro Academic Center atrium.

“I haven’t seen my students smile in weeks,” Elion said as she surveyed the scene Tuesday morning. “They are mega-stressed and this is to work some of that out. They are all smiling now – it’s great.”

Elion also works in the Watertown public schools, where she met Laura Rice, owner of the three certified Dog B.O.N.E.S. (Building Opportunities for Nurturing and Emotional Support) Therapy Dachshunds and invited them to help students relax. Elion figured her older students might also benefit from their service.

MAT class members will celebrate their graduation on Friday after presenting research projects they’ve worked on during internships since January – collecting video, audio and samples of student work.

The program runs for two semesters, bookended by two summer terms. They’ve been at their studies non-stop for about a year. This year, 28 students will graduate with specialties in elementary or secondary public or Jewish day school education.

Rice and her three dogs had to take the elevator to get down the handful of stairs between the entrance and the atrium level – Promise’s rear paws were paralyzed in an accident three years ago. Students were immediately awed.

“I didn’t know they were going to be so cute!” exclaimed one student.

“I miss my dog,” another said, sighing.

“I think it’s brilliant of [Elion] to think that they would learn about the benefits of interacting with therapy dogs not just by hearing about it but by experiencing it firsthand at a time when they are very stressed themselves,” says Dirck Roosevelt, associate professor of education and director of the MAT program.

Rice regularly brings her dogs to the Watertown public library and schools and to the Franciscan Children’s Hospital in Boston. They began volunteering after Promise’s accident, when she decided her recovery might help inspire others.

In no time at all, the MAT students were on hands and knees, crawling along the floor with the dogs and Altoids tins of Cheerios – snacks for the pups – were passing hand to hand. Rice said the snacks establish a way to connect.

“It doesn’t take away the stress completely, but it takes your mind off of it,” says Jesse Begelfer. “We still have presentations and a final on Friday, but [the dogs] make us laugh – they make everyone feel lighthearted.”

The students inquired about Rice’s volunteer work and the dogs’ training, but mostly they were interested in petting the Dachshunds and offering them treats.

“They definitely put us all in a better mood,” says Nicholas Long, as he got back to work.

Categories: Humanities and Social Sciences, Student Life

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