Skip To Main Content

Pawfect Friends: BCSD Therapy Dogs Brings Smiles

Pawfect Friends: BCSD Therapy Dogs Brings Smiles

Walking down the halls of Beekmantown Central School District, Laci Mae is greeted with smiles and pats from students and staff.

Laci Mae is one of the three therapy dogs a part of the BCSD Canine Inclusion Program, which is funded through the ELO grant. Laci Mae and her coworkers, Oliver and Magnolia, provide support to those on campus. They are integral parts of the school environment.

Laci Mae, the first therapy dog brought to BCSD three years ago, is owned by CHES teacher Gayle Roy-Collin. Fourth grade students created a book of short stories about Laci Mae in her first year at Beekmantown. They published it, and students were given copies of their hard work. It was a great way to connect with her and let the community know about her addition to the school community.

“The kids will still make me love letters for the dogs,” Roy-Collin said. “They love the dogs and are so connected to them. I have so many handmade pictures and letters for Laci-Mae in my classroom.”

Oliver has been at the school almost as long as Laci Mae, and Magnolia recently joined. The dogs work with handlers Pete Villa, Bill King, Mel Deller and Andy Deller throughout their week.

“I like that they are always here when you need them,” Fourth grader Mia said. “If you tell them something, they won’t tell anyone.”

Not only are the dogs friendly and loveable, but they help with crisis support, curriculum, exercise, anxiety and so many other positive contributions.

“Laci Mae and I were in the counseling office one day, and an 8th grade girl was really upset about something,” Villa said. “I didn’t say anything, but I just walked up the dog. She said, ‘Oh hi Laci,’ and you could just see her calm down.”

The dogs help make students feel better. Whether kids are having a good or a bad day, the therapy dogs bring a relaxing energy into the space.

“Once when I was sad, I got to sit next to the dogs and pet them, and then I got to read to Oliver,” Fourth grader Sydney said about how the dogs have helped her on a bad day.

Laci Mae can even detect when someone is going to have a seizure. For those who have regular seizures, Laci Mae will go up to them and “assess them” to see if they are alright. While they are great for a hug or pet, they can provide different levels of medical and physical help.

“There’s some youngsters that are dealing with childhood diabetes, and they just need to move around,” Mel Deller said. "They need some exercise in order to help them physically, so they will walk with the dogs, and that typically motivates them.”

Laci Mae, Oliver and Magnolia also help with academics. For students who need extra reading help, they can read to the dogs.

“Not having a human being who might project judgements, or the child thinks they are being judged, and just getting to read to a dog has been a great resource,” Pete Villa said.

The dogs have also been used for scientific purposes too. Students have done experiments to see why the dogs fur coloring is the way it is, learning how dogs see color as well doing an experiment about favorite treats.

In an engineering class, students were tasked to make treat dispensers. They had to figure out how much weight the dogs could put on the dispensers before a treat came out. Laci Mae was brought in to test out the product, and as soon as her nose it the dispenser, treats came flooding out.

It was back to the drawing board for the students. They had to figure out how to make it work for all three dogs, and each are a different weight and size. It was a great hands-on project, where students could see their mistakes and successes happening.

The students love the dogs, so getting to hang out with them is a great reward. Hounds and Hot Chocolates was one of those initiatives. If students earn so many talent tickets, they can cash them in to spend time with the dogs.

The dogs will also join Circle Ups, a secure space created to invite the sharing of stories, perspectives and emotions. The handlers will answer questions or stories for the dogs.

“One time a story was about Magnolia going to the hospital,” Mel Deller said. “We shared the story, and it teaches younger kids about empathy or helps them feel seen, if they are going through something.”

It has been a great experience including the dogs into the school district. Roy-Collin said she only heard positive feedback from students and staff about getting to see Laci Mae and the other dogs.

“My favorite part about having the dogs at school is them being there for other kids, when they’re sad or if they have something going on,” Fourth grader Hayden said.