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Indiana school adds certified therapy dog

DUGGER, Ind. (WTWO) – There is a new employee at Dugger Union School that had to complete some tough summer training to make sure she was ready for her first day of class. 

Maggie the collie is not what most people would consider the typical employee but has proven to be a valuable asset to have on staff.

The therapy dog, also called a support animal, and her handler spent the summer training so Maggie could become a certified therapy dog.

Stephanie Kinnett, elementary administrator for the school, said, the dog had “to be able to walk alongside the students or the teachers, to sit whenever we tell her to, to lay down whenever we tell her to.”

Maggie has been introduced to the classrooms to take on her new role assisting students both emotionally and physically.

“Kids that struggle with reading, the feedback we have gotten from other schools is that they are more comfortable reading to Maggie than maybe they would be to some of their classmates,” said Darin Simpson, a junior-senior high administrator.

Some staff members, including Grade 3 teacher Valerie Wells, even use the canine in more innovative ways. “I also asked if I could use her as a reward system. So when my children do, my students do a great job, I told them, ‘You may have some one-on-one time with Maggie.’ And their eyes lit up, they were superexcited.”

School officials said the kids have taken well to having Maggie around.

“The students really are treating her differently already. They don’t view her as much as a pet now as they as they are viewing her as an employee, as another teacher in the building,” Kinnett said.

The teachers also treating the dog differently, too.

“I am already trying to make a schedule for Maggie in my room,” Wells said. “I have kind of asked around, like, ‘Hey, can I take her for certain times during the day?’ Because I just know if I get on a schedule, that is just going to make the kids more eager and more apt to want to do stuff with her.” 

So far, Maggie has been helping classrooms with a number of different tasks.

Even though school has been in session for just two days, school officials said, they think Maggie is going to make a major positive impact on their students and their learning.

She is there Monday through Friday but rotates between classrooms depending on where she is needed.

Her handler said since she is only 6 months old, she struggled during her training with learning to stay calm and sit and stay quietly. But, the handler said, the dog really excelled at not letting noises distract her and she is great with people.