ALPENA, Mich. — An unsuspecting therapist will be doing all he can to build morale at Oscoda Area Schools. He’s a 9-month-old puppy named Chester who will be working with students one–on–one.
The golden labradoodle is on track to being a certified therapy dog. On Monday, teachers met Chester for the first time a week before classes start.
Charlotte’s Litter and PAWS for People, two pet therapy programs, say dog therapy is beneficial. Chester has the capacity to build self–confidence and social skills. He can also decrease anxiety at the same time, especially among students on the autism spectrum.
Special education teacher Ellen Doherty said, “we have students that experience trauma that Chester could be influential and help them.”
Doherty hopes to interact with her students on a deeper level. As tempting as it is to pet Chester on the belly, students and staff are advised not to do it. Interacting with him in certain ways can compromise his training. All paws must be on the ground when anyone is petting Chester.
“Chester goes through a whole process where he’s desensitized,” said Valerie Thomas. She is Chester’s trainer. Therapy dogs can start training as early as seven weeks of age. From that time on, Thomas has been exposing Chester to as much as possible to elements such as large crowds and sudden noises.
Rebecca Brooks, assistant principal at Richardson Elementary in Oscoda, said “consistency is key to success.” Staff will be following Chester’s success. “I think they understand how much he can help the students.”