Cedar Grove Elementary School students and staff have bonded with Josie Jane, an Aussie Doodle certified therapy dog.
Josie Jane was acquired over the summer after Principal Bryan Flachbart wrote a successful proposal. The canine resides with Flachbart and his wife, Mary, a Brooks Elementary School teacher and spends each school day at Cedar Grove, the first and only local elementary school to have a therapy dog.
But likely not the last.
“We have had questions from schools on how they can put a therapy dog on their staff,” smiled Cedar Grove Counselor Casey Newberry. “Just the other day, a Hardin County Schools counselor visited and she was ready to go out and get a therapy dog for her school after seeing Josie Jane interact with our students.”
Flachbart and Newberry attended training to become certified dog handlers. Each school day, Newberry takes Josie Jane on her leash around the school where she is warmly greeted by students and staff.
It takes some time for Josie Jane to walk on all fours down the school corridor because she is constantly being stopped for petting by two-legged individuals.
“Josie Jane is the perfect puppy for student and staff interaction,” Newberry noted.
In Flachbart’s proposal, he noted Cedar Grove’s Site Based Decision Making Council unanimously agreed ‘staffing’ a therapy dog and agreed to pay the first year’s $90 liability insurance fee.
“Certified therapy dogs have proven to be an amazing tool with children and staff in the school setting,” Flachbart said noting they have already been at work in hospitals, hospice care and elderly support.
To overcome the potential challenges of an elementary school setting, Flachbart assured district officials with his meticulous research on subjects such as allergies and liability.
Flachbart learned that breeds used for therapy dogs are hypo allergenic. Josie Jane is kept very cleaned and groomed thanks to free services provided by Ashley Reed, groomer, and Desirae Henry, owner, at Critter Connections in Shepherdsville, KY.
In addition, all of Josie Jane’s vet checkups and shots will be administered without cost by Dr. Thompson of Cedar Heights Animal Clinic in Cox’s Creek.
“We are very thankful for these local services that were willing to give to this wonderful cause.” Newberry said.
Flachbart agreed saying, “We appreciate the support everyone has shown this initiative.”
Watching Josie Jane interact with students and staff is heartwarming. She is very gentle and approachable and LOVES chasing after tennis balls! She is also quite obedient, responding to commands of ‘stay’ and ‘sit.’
Josie Jane is so well trained she can be walked by one of her handlers in a Kindergarten classroom and all students continue their work uninterrupted. There is absolutely no distraction in this or any classroom.
This behavior is rewarded with students allowed to pet Josie Jane and the therapy dog earning a treat.
“At seven months old, she is still a puppy and quite playful,” Newberry said. “We are excited to have her because she can instantly break down many of the barriers that naturally exist between people who are meeting for the first time.”
She is always accompanied by either Flachbart or Newberry holding her leash and is never let loose.
Flachbart is negotiating with an animal specialty business to cover her food costs. When she must be excused to do her private duty, the grounds are always restored.
“Josie Jane is such a pleasure to have on ‘staff’ at Cedar Grove,” Flachbart grinned.
Students interacting with Josie Jane on a recent Tuesday morning enjoyed spending time with her. They liked how she listened, played fetch and found the hidden tennis ball.
“Josie Jane gives our school a very welcoming feel and our students who do not have pets are especially excited to have a pet now,” Newberry said. “She’s a pet for all of our Viking students. She has become a powerful behavior modification reward for many of our students.”
Reducing anxiety and stress and providing unconditional acceptance are among a therapy dog’s most important benefits.
“For some of our most socially challenged and school phobic students, a therapy dog is their most positive reason for coming to school,” Newbery explained.
In a classroom, a student sat down to read the book Corduroy and Josie Jane nestled beside him.
“We are also exploring the possibility of the development of a reading program using Josie as a listener,” Newberry said.
Josie Jane is not only a certified therapy dog, she is a beloved Cedar Grove Viking.