School Therapy Dogs
Since this is a rather new approach in interventions in a school setting, gaining support of the School Board or administration can be a substantial hurdle. Finding an individual in your district that supports your program is a significant step to program approval.
I was very fortunate to have a supportive prinicipal at my school during the development of this program. The district had a strict policy against any animal working in the schools but together we were able to overcome some hurdles. The big breakthrough came in the form of a grant with Colorado State University. Their HABIC (Human Animal Bond in Colorado) program was conducting a study with the university in the emotional availablilty in students. They compared students that worked with a HABIC team and the school counselor with students that worked one on one with a therapist. We were able to document the positive results of having students working with a therapy dog through the increase in emotional availability and the decrease in office referrals at school. There are many universities that have started Human-Animal Bond departments within their schools of social work. Networking with individuals in those positions may help provide links to professional development opportunities or research opportunities.
Since this is a new modality for working with students, there are not many published studies to support the field. However, that is quickly changing. There are numerous ways that having a dog in school can benefit students. Several ideas and data from this website can help support your own cause. Having a binder full of research and examples of dogs working in schools was key to gaining the support of upper administration. I included professional development courses that I have taken regarding the human-animal bond and therapy dog interventions. My binders include documents of insurance, training, vet certificates and concrete data from students at the school. I have an entire binder of notes and pictures that students have given me reflecting how they feel about having Copper at school. Many times, it is that binder that people slow down and look at.
The binders of information were instrumental when my old principal accepted a different job and we hired a new individual in the position. Our new principal is incredible. He questioned the program and I was able to walk through the binders of information and data to support my work. He is now a strong supporter of the program because he sees the outcome of this work across the building and the solid foundation of the program as a whole..
Our program had been running for a year when the local newspaper decided to run a story about Copper and his work at B.F. Kitchen. I received a "stop services" email from District Risk Management the next day. I scheduled time to discussion the program and again, walked through the binders. I was able to demonstrate the validity of the program and the protocols in place to reduce risk. Our Risk Management department now has a file that is several inches thick on Copper's program but we have approval to continue our work.