Yesterday, I worked as a substitute teacher at the Primary Learning Center in Brick, NJ. PLC, as it is called, is a unique center dedicated exclusively to the education of Kindergarten-age children. All children at that grade level are educated under one roof before going on to one of seven elementary schools next September. Picture an endless stream of five and six years old pouring down the hallway as the bell rings, it’s quite a sight!
Entering the classroom, the talk quickly turned to dogs (of course). I asked Mary Ann, a paraprofessional I would be spending the day with, about the prospect of a Service Dog ever gracing the corridors or PLC. A dog-lover, she excitedly said she thought it would be great, however, the issue of allergies quickly came up.
The other day, in response to my post, I received a nice comment from Jennifer who has twins diagnosed with Autism. Jennifer was able to obtain a Service Dog for her children from 4PawsforAbility in Xenia, Ohio, founded by a woman named Karen Shirk. Jennifer’s family is very happy with their dog, Barkley. He is welcome almost anywhere, except in the school system, unfortunately. Jennifer must battle for the right for Barkley to attend class with the twins, something the Board of Education seems very opposed to.
There are several issues at hand here, but hopefully, those districts that have allowed Therapy and Service dogs into their schools, will come forward and share how they have found solutions. Are certain “non-allergenic” breeds preferable? Are separate areas of a room, or building, able to accommodate them? Do you let parents make a choice if they want their children in a class where a dog is allowed?
And of course, these are tough questions for school systems that are facing huge budget cuts, and layoffs. Yesterday I was told that as of next year, all “specials” like art, music, and science, will be discontinued at PLC, and the Library, the heart of the school, is in danger of being discontinued (I would have to confirm that). But you get the picture. Times are not great for the educational future of kids in New Jersey, and elsewhere.
Captain William Judy, the man who founded National Dog Week in the wake of the Great Depression, extolled the positive influence pets can have on our young when he wrote, “…the dog is also an excellent teacher for children in that he aids in their character building.” He went on to say, ” Caring for animals, which depend knowingly upon humans, pulls a child or an adult out of his selfishness and away from his own narrow cell.”
In my last post I wrote about Robbie Drescher and his Therapy Dog, Parker, an excellent example of what Judy was trying to say. A dog, languishing in an animal shelter is selected and trained by inmates trying to make a positive impact on society. This special dog then goes on to help, and inspire, a young man who hopes to someday be able to walk alongside his loyal companion.
Please continue to send me your thoughts, concerns, and solutions on this topic. Pst39crd@aol.com