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home : news : news Sunday, May 1, 2016

4/10/2013 Email this articlePrint this article 
Settling in for story time with certified therapy dog Sadie, a bullmastiff, is Northeast Elementary student Jacob Witt. Sadie is owned by elementary teacher Devin Hardin, who says students are eager to earn time with Sadie as a reward for good behavior. She also helps calm children and simply makes them feel good, Hardin adds. Sadie started coming to the school last fall. Photo by Kate Howes
Comfy companion. Diesel, who recently became a certified facility dog, acts as a cozy cushion for Central fifth-graders (from left) Brandon Burken, Julian Arndt, Mitchel Bender and Halie Hoover. The students all say Diesel helps calm them, is extremely lovable and provides the kind of non-judgmental love and attention they sometimes need. Diesel also was called to help provide consolation to classmates of victims of the recent fire in rural Sherrard, Ill. Photo by Kate Howes
Pooches provide soothing, positive presence in area schools

By Kate Howes
Staff writer

They are hairy, tend to slobber and shed a bit, yet Diesel and Sadie are paws-down the most popular in their respective schools. These canine companions offer students and staff alike solace in times of sadness and put smiles on the faces of nearly everyone who sees them in the classrooms or as they lumber through the halls.

Although large in stature - Diesel is a golden retriever and Newfoundland mix, while Sadie is a bullmastiff - these gentle giants have tender temperaments that almost immediately put students at ease. "Diesel looks like he could be half horse," quips Vicki Judge, a teacher at Central Middle School, Diesel's owner and self-proclaimed 'crazy dog lady.' "But he's like a kid-magnet; they just surround him every time they see him. The comfort he brings to anyone he comes into contact with . . . it's amazing."

One such incident happened recently when a high school student who had become extremely upset requested to see Diesel.

Since Judge started bringing him to school with her, Diesel has been to classrooms at the middle and intermediate buildings. Plans are in the works to have him visit students at Ekstrand Elementary beginning in the fall.

Until a few weeks ago, no one at the high school ever had specifically asked for him.

"The student was really upset, was taken into the office and asked if he could see Diesel," Judge relates. "Almost instantly, the kid calmed down. That very same day, a student at the middle school was having an issue. The kid came in crying and went into the nurse's room. Diesel walked in, put his head on the student's lap and within minutes the kid was laughing.

"That just made my day. It's weird how these dogs can sense when something's wrong. The difference between a teacher or counselor and a dog is a dog doesn't care why a student is upset or how they came to be that way. They're just there for them, calming them."

Teachers also have found themselves in need of a Diesel fix after having a long day, Judge adds. They come in just to sit with and pet him and take advantage of the same soothing effects he has on children.

Diesel is a certified facility dog, which means he has undergone expert training to partner with people to work in healthcare or educational settings.

The difference between a facility and a therapy dog, Judge explains, is therapy dogs must stick with their respective owners while Diesel can team up with anyone.

He can be in different classrooms with different teachers - the only thing that doesn't change is his purpose in being there.

Students with attention deficit disorders also respond remarkably well to Diesel, and become more focused whenever he's around. Kids who normally are closed-off begin smiling, giggling and talking freely in his presence.

The kind of healing Diesel offers students and staff and the strong support the community has shown by helping to fund his training continues to astound Judge.

She credits the DeWitt Noon and Nite Lions clubs for their financial help so Diesel could obtain the certification he needs and the community as a whole for recognizing the contribution he makes to Central.

Sadie engages, inspires students

Sadie, a therapy dog at Northeast Elementary, always is at the ready to give students comfort and affection as well as to motivate and inspire them.

In addition to being patient, gentle and friendly, Sadie's owner and Northeast Elementary teacher Devin Hardin says she is a wonderful motivator for good behavior.

"The kids earn time with (Sadie)," Hardin says, who brought Sadie home when she was 8 weeks old. "Students all want to sit with her, read with her . . . she definitely lifts everyone's spirits."

Hardin and her husband, Roger, had another bullmastiff, Porter, who died earlier this spring. She says Porter would have made an excellent therapy dog because of his calm demeanor.

That is precisely why Hardin chose another bullmastiff when she decided to bring the benefits of a trained therapy dog into the district.

A quality therapy dog not only requires a good temperament, but also needs to be obedient.

Though Hardin has spent many hours working with her, she says being both loving and dutiful comes pretty naturally to Sadie.

"Everybody loves being with (Sadie), sometimes I feel like there's not enough of her to go around," Hardin quips. "She spends most of her time in my classroom. We have all sorts of motivators for students, and she gives them so much motivation. She's made a lot of friends with the other students and they like to stop in and say hi and even bring her treats."

Making treats even has been used as a means of fund-raising for various organizations, an idea inspired by Sadie.

Hardin says students make "Sadie Snacks," which are homemade dog biscuits, and package and sell them. Proceeds recently were donated to purchase toys for children at the YWCA in Clinton.

Some of the money also will be used to pay for a trip for Hardin's students to visit Camp Courageous April 15.

Sadie's favorite activities include walking in the hallway with students, playing and even walking them to the bus at the end of the school day.

While there is a range of ways to help students who have behavioral issues, Hardin says nothing seems to work as well at engaging and inspiring students to work hard and conduct themselves than the promise of spending time with Sadie.

"It's such a reward for them to be able to be with her," Hardin relates. "(Sadie) just makes them feel good; she makes them happy and feel comfortable. A lot of students have tough days at school and being with Sadie helps them so much. Whenever I even mention her or the possibility they can take her for a walk around the school or read with her, they just light up."


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