Doggos in Baugo: therapy dogs making life less ruff in schools

Published: Sep. 23, 2022 at 6:52 PM EDT
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ELKHART COUNTY, Ind. (WNDU) - Baugo Community Schools and Top-Notch Dog School have partnered up to place therapy dogs in Jimtown Schools to turn man’s best friend into students’ best friend.

The school district has been using therapy dogs to assist students in the classrooms for a year and a half, but now they’re looking for some assistance to ensure the dogs can continue helping students lead the pack.

The dogs’ names are JJ, Daisy, Jimmie, and Belle, and each dog is assigned to a school in the district.

“We knew that having dogs in the school would be good,” said Marci Brubaker, the principal at Jimtown Intermediate School. “We just didn’t know how great it would be. We’re a district of just under 2,000 kids, and I will tell you, every one of these kids has benefitted from having these dogs in the buildings.”

It all started when a third-grade class was working on a project about the benefits of therapy dogs in classrooms and grew into this program.

Since then, faculty have observed the advantages of having these dogs in schools.

“They’ve been instrumental in kids who have anxiety, kids who have experienced trauma, students who have absentee issues, attendance issues,” said Brubaker. “We’ve had them in our special needs rooms. They work with our kiddos who have special needs.”

Students are also enjoying the canine comforts.

“I feel like it’s really nice having the dogs in the school because anybody feels comfortable to go up and pet them and be around them because they are welcoming and comforting,” said Abby Sanders, a Jimtown Highschool student. “They’re always around the school, and you can go up and pet them. They’re nice, really well behaved, and Belle wears cheer uniforms and dresses up with us.”

But it’s not just the kids benefiting from therapy dogs.

“They are a great morale builder for our staff. They just instinctively know how to comfort,” said Brubaker. “We haven’t taught them that; we’ve taught them a lot of things, and they’re very well behaved, but what they give back in regard to love and empathy is something we can’t even quantify.”

While faculty admits that the benefits far outweigh the effort, the responsibility and cost of taking care of the dogs have fallen onto teachers and administrators, so the school district is holding a fundraiser for the dogs at Jimtown’s homecoming football game vs. South Bend Clay starting at 6:30 p.m Friday, Sept. 23.

The teachers in Jimtown told 16 News Now about an unexpected benefit of having therapy dogs: cleaner classrooms. The kids clean the room without being told twice because they want the dogs to visit the classroom.

“It’s interesting how much more we can get children to attend when this is the carrot that we get to hold in front of them,” said Brubaker. ‘They will do anything to have Daisy time, or JJ time, or Belle time. You’d have to see it to believe it, and you’d have to see it in action. I would ask people to have an open mind because watching it in action is truly powerful.”