A golden Labrador called Ajax has joined classes at a Central West New South Wales school hit hard by local droughts. The therapy dog will take a permanent position at the Trundle Central School after the headmaster fast-tracked the application process.
The drought has caused hardship among the student community, and it is hoped that Ajax will boost morale in addition to his regular duties. Those responsibilities will include participation in reading programs and counselling sessions.
A well-qualified therapy dog
The school has also added new showers and washing machines, and beefed up the curriculum with some juicy new subjects. But it is Ajax who is likely to have the most noticeable impact on pupils.
“Ajax is a beautiful and friendly and cuddly dog and I am really excited to have him at this school,” reports 10-year-old Narella McKellar, in ABC.
School principal John Southon had already begun researching the advantages of therapy dogs in schools, such as improved student attendance, reading skills, and confidence. But he hurried the onboarding of the school’s “beautiful new staff member” when he saw the devastating effects of the drought upon local children and families.
And it wasn’t long before Southon saw the golden Lab’s positive influence on a normally “tough” child.
“His face was a mixture of excitement and emotion and he is a boy who is from a pretty difficult background situation,” tells Southon in ABC. “To see that he showed that emotion and was able to release that emotion in front of the other kids just blew me away.”
“It is just beautiful to see these little faces light up with bright eyes and beaming smiles,” agrees Guide Dogs pet therapy officer Christine Runda. “I am sure these children are in a lot of tricky situations, they are feeling a lot of pressure, their parents are under a lot of pressure.”
Research on the positive effects of therapy dogs in schools is mostly anecdotal, with longer-term studies in the pipeline. Ajax is just the fifth school therapy dog to find work in Central West New South Wales. It is not known whether the dogs have unionized.