The implementation of a therapy dog at AT has been around for some time now, spanning all the way back to when Principal Andrews was a teacher at AT. “We brought in a therapy dog in different situations depending on if there was a student death, faculty death, whatever it might be,” said Andrews.
Following these occasional visits by comfort dogs, a program at AT named VRC “began bringing one in for the past seven years. It was more of a ‘target specific group’ of students, where once a month they would run a social group, or social-emotional group to work through hard topics.”
Most recently, however, AT has connected with “Lutheran Church Charities K-9 Ministries as well as Edward-Elmhurst Hospital K-9 Services,” according to District 88 Director of Student Services, Alena Edwards.
The district has decided it is in both student and staff member’s best interest to provide this comfort service on a more widespread scale, already scheduling visits for “Therapy/Comfort Dogs to visit both AT and WB once a month during all lunch periods.”
To clear up any confusion as to the difference between a therapy dog and a comfort dog, Andrews stated that a therapy dog has a little higher “licensure,” as opposed to comfort dogs who are just there to support those that are victims of trauma or a tragic event in their lives.
For anyone at AT interested in visiting with a comfort dog during school, the dogs will be in the cafeteria/commons during all lunch periods once a month for the remainder of months this school year. Plans to expand how often the dogs will be visiting AT are open to scheduling more visits to fit student and faculty needs.
So far there has only been one dog visit at AT, and turnout was successful for those who showed interest in the fluffy friend roaming the commons. However, it is still necessary that more information is pushed out about the dogs’ arrival at AT, seeing that many were confused to see a “dog in a vest.”
An announcement and flier is in the works to firm up the remaining dates for service/comfort dog visits to come towards the end of first semester, and heading into next semester. Understanding that the dogs within this organization are on call to travel down to areas of need in case of disaster, such as a hurricane in Florida, maintaining the exact visitation dates for up to a year in advance might be a challenge. Just last year when Texas had a “freeze,” service dogs were sent down South to take care of local victims of the natural disaster.
“If something tragic happens within the U.S. that they can travel to, then we might end up losing them for that week,” said Andrews.
There is a bright future for dog companions at AT, and plenty more visits scheduled for the rest of the 2023-24 school year.