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Getting Started: Stories from a New Partnership (Part 1)

Carol Van Sant joined Nor’wester Therapy Dogs in 2018 and received her first assignment for the 2018-2019 school year. Carol was partnered with Stephanie Lucci-May, a Pennsbury elementary school teacher and ardent dog lover. Carol and Stephanie met for the first time at an introductory session in Stephanie’s empty classroom. It was both Carol’s and Stephanie’s first assignment. Both of them were a bit nervous and unsure of what to expect.  We thought it would help other newbies if we shared some of their experiences, and maybe spark some memories from those of you who have started volunteering already. Carol’s story appears this week. Stephanie’s story will be continued next week.

Carol’s Story

I finally retired in 2018 and was able to fulfill a dream of getting my two therapy dogs registered with Nor’wester Therapy Dogs in the fall. I love reading and believe literacy is very important, so this was a perfect fit. We were assigned to Stephanie Lucci-May’s 4th grade class at Edgewood Elementary, and we were very excited to get started! Stephanie loves dogs and had been requesting a therapy dog team for her classroom for some time. Little did she know that she was getting a two-fer—two dogs instead of one.

Having the support of Lyn Bauer, Wendi Huttner, and Debbie Glessner in the beginning helped reduce my nerves. Stephanie’s interest, enthusiasm, and her preparation of her class for our initial visits helped even more. Stephanie and I really clicked, and I couldn’t ask for a better partner!

Violet, my yellow Lab, and I have been a therapy dog team for over 8 years, so she was no stranger to therapy dog work. I’m very confident in her abilities and the way she relates to others. She’s a happy girl and always enjoys giving affection. When we arrive on Monday afternoon, she wants to wander around and say “Hi” to everyone—including Stephen the turtle who roams the classroom freely!

For Tex, my yellow Lab/Great Pyrenees mix, Edgewood Elementary was his first therapy dog assignment. We adopted Tex 3 days before he turned 1, so there are things in his background that we can only guess at. He sometimes startles easily and will bark at weird things. Volunteering has been as excellent a learning experience for Tex as it has been for the students.

Tex is a big, goofy boy and enjoys getting attention. When Tex and I visit on Thursday afternoons, he likes nothing better than to wade into a group of students and lie down so they can rub his tummy. He really turns up the goof factor during our visit and the students love it!

It did take us a while to get started, but we are now a regular part of the classroom routine. We usually begin with a list of students who want to read to the dog. One of the students is the timer, and off we go! Amid licks, sniffs, and giggles, each student gets some reading done.

After individual reading time is over, Stephanie often works in some class activities with the dog. She did action verbs focused on the dog, reading a book to the class, and discussing empathy. One of my most memorable times happened with Tex. During individual reading time, a student accidentally shut the classroom door loudly, which set off a barking spree and a fear of the door. Stephanie’s lesson that day was on cause and effect. I can tell you that Tex was featured in many examples from the students!

To be continued next week . . .