School in drought-stricken NSW brings in a therapy dog to support students – ABC Rural


A school in drought-affected Central West New South Wales has fast-tracked the support of a therapy dog to help its students through the drought, and the golden Labrador named Ajax has been placed in a permanent role at the school.

The Trundle Central School has also upgraded its showers, installed a washing machine and introduced new subjects to keep pupils positive during the big dry, but this latest innovation has children buzzing with excitement.

“Ajax is a beautiful and friendly and cuddly dog and I am really excited to have him at this school,” 10-year-old Narella McKellar said.

The intensifying drought prompted the school’s principal John Southon to expedite an application to get a full-time therapy dog.

Mr Southon had been looking into the benefits of therapy dogs in schools, finding research that said therapy dogs can increase student attendance, as well as improve students’ confidence, motivation and literacy skills.

Placing assistance dogs permanently in mainstream schools was not common for Guide Dogs NSW/ACT with the dog being only one of five that the organisation has introduced to mainstream schools in NSW.

“We do place dogs more in family situations to individual clients,” Guide Dogs pet therapy officer Christine Runda said.

“To families with maybe a child on the autistic spectrum or maybe people whom are suffering from depression or are trying to recover from trauma.”

But Ms Runda said she was confident Ajax would do a good job outside of a family environment.

“I am sure these children are in a lot of tricky situations, they are feeling a lot of pressure, their parents are under a lot of pressure.”

Research needs more work

Senior education lecturer, Linda Henderson, from Monash University said more work was needed in the therapy dog space when it came to schools.

She explained most evidence is anecdotal and that funding larger, long-term studies which will take a focus on student wellbeing was needed.

Dr Henderson said in order to get the most successful outcomes from therapy dogs in schools, a framework was also needed, which she is helping develop as part of a small research team.

Dr Henderson hoped more research and the framework would be finished in 2019, but said it would not negate the need for a larger study.

But Mr Southon said Ajax had already surprised him after a child he described as being “tough” softened when he met the dog.

“His face was a mixture of excitement and emotion and he is a boy who is from a pretty difficult background situation.

“To see that he showed that emotion and was able to release that emotion in front of the other kids just blew me away,” Mr Souton said.



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