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Beaconhills College has two new furry staff members, therapy dogs Smudgee and Kai.
Dachshund Smudgee works with Berwick Campus Counsellor Jane Negus, while Kai – a pointer cross greyhound – is helping out Pakenham Campus Counsellor Amanda Harris.
Not surprisingly, the canine counsellors are in high demand for pats when they’re out in the school yard, but their work has a serious side.
Research has shown that therapy dogs have many positive benefits. Not only do they lift mood and lower anxiety, but can help boost confidence and self-esteem and lower children’s aggression and hyperactivity. Students can groom, dress the dogs and even brush their teeth.
Both dogs have graduated from professional therapy training and have good grades for subjects such as obedience, manners and socialisation.
The therapy dogs work in the counselling rooms but also visit classrooms if requested. For some children, it’s an opportunity to learn how to correctly approach and handle dogs.
The two counsellors are already observing the benefits the therapy dogs bring to counselling sessions and how the dogs can sense when a student is sad or upset.
“The children’s faces just light up when they see Kai,” Ms Harris said. “It’s the most amazing thing, he will just go straight over and sit with the student and stay there. It’s quite beautiful actually.”
Ms Negus agreed that the dogs had an uncanny ability to “pick up on children’s emotions” and their presence was an excellent ice-breaker to conversations.
“It’s an unconditional love. For children with more serious anxieties, even just being able to walk Smudgee from the car into the school can be helpful.”
Smudgee and Kai are currently working three days a week. They always wear their vests and have their working harnesses on whenever they’re out in the yard or working with children. They must have their licences renewed annually.
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