A furry staff member who listens without judgment
Walk through the door at the Kenneth C. Coombs School nurse’s office in Mashpee and you will be greeted by a four-legged assistant with a wagging tail. Cassie is a 4-year-old golden retriever who shares her “office” with school nurse Stacey Schakel, MSN, RN, CAGS, NCSN.
Next door, at the Quashnet Elementary School, Keiki, a 9-year-old golden retriever greets students at the front door in the morning and visits classrooms with school adjustment counselor Sean Withington, MSW, LICSW, LADC1.
Other than their breed, the two dogs have something else in common. They are therapy/comfort dogs who not only bring a calming presence to the schools but also play an important role in education.
“Cassie has been an awesome asset, we didn’t have any ongoing issues with children not wanting to come to school this year,” said Schakel. “Students who had issues with coming to school last year have transitioned quicker this year because they knew Cassie is an option to help them.”
This is the therapy dog’s second year at the pre-kindergarten through second grade elementary school.
Keiki has been at the third through sixth grade Quashnet elementary school for five years.
“She is good at grounding situations and bringing down the emotional temperature,” said Withington.
Research has shown that the human-animal bond lowers blood pressure, reduces anxiety and enhances feelings of well-being according to the Human Animal Bond Research Initiative Foundation (HABRI).
While their roles are alike in many ways, their locations and uses are different.
Cassie essentially remains in the nurse’s office throughout the day and the students come to her. Keiki is out and about more with Withington during the school day.
The Dogs’ Roles
“Children to a greater degree will express their scale of emotions through physical symptoms,” said Withington. “Nurses get many more kids coming into their office who suffer anxiety or stress responses. Adults can verbalize their emotions whereas most children cannot.”