When I enter the classroom as a therapy dog handler, I need to understand that this is a certain privilege that I have gained and I need to be responsible as far as how I handle it.
Why do I see it as a privilege? Not everybody can enter the classroom if one is not a teacher or teacher assistant. Therefore, as a therapy dog handler, I am privileged to interact with children and the teacher.
Once I am in the classroom, sometimes I can see different situations, children’s various behaviors, both the best and happiest moments, and even sadness at times. But that is what I am actually supposed to see, the real classroom and real children.
As a dog therapy team, we are in the classroom with children to help them in these authentic, daily situations that occur in school, soothe their anxiety, and calm their nerves. As I walk around with my dog and she interacts with children when they learn, I can see they try to pay attention to learning but at the same time pet Carmel and make sure they do not miss the chance to do it.
Occasionally, we approach a child who sits at the desk completely disengaged, sad, or maybe just mainly tired. Sometimes such a child doesn’t even notice that we are near his or her desk. When I see this situation, I usually tell Carmel to sit down closer to the child until he or she realizes that Carmel is next to him or her. Eventually, interaction between the child and Carmel occurs and it makes me very happy to see that the child at least attends to Carmel and sometimes regains his or her attention well enough to participate in the class.
But there are also some other therapy moments, when children gather around my dog. Such gatherings create different opportunities of interacting with Carmel. It is in these circumstances that the children reveal more about themselves, their families, and everything else that makes them happy or bothers them.
Needless to say, everything that they say I treat as confidential. Some of the things I heard during such situations are things like children wanting to take Carmel to their house because they don’t have their own dog and therefore would like to have Carmel as their dog. Occasionally, I also see children who are exceptionally attached to Carmel, to the point of giving her more than regular hugs.
Of course, in such situations, I have to be vigilant and also have to protect my dog by reminding children of proper interacting with dogs. I understand that they need special affection and maybe they didn’t have a hug from the parents on that day and therefore Carmel might be such a fluffy hug provider, but my responsibility is to make sure that my dog is not hurt accidentally in any way. In such moments, I feel that I am helping both children and my dog and I need to balance those needs and be vigilant as far as what is occurring.
In situations like these, I can’t help but think how important it is to understand my responsibilities with regards to confidentiality of what children express and share. Just like someone shares with us something important and confidential and we need to keep it as a secret, that’s how I feel in the classroom when I hear and see children in all kinds of situations and as they inevitably express their feelings because they trust me and Carmel.
At the same time, these are special moments because when I realize that I am the one who gets a chance to witness these moments, I feel a sense of responsibility. In such situations, I realize even more how important it is that schools do provide such opportunities for children in their daily activities. Dogs have an incredible ability to soothe feelings and ease any kind of vulnerability and stress and often do it in a way that no human can ever achieve.