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Lady Makes an Impact at Memorial Middle School

July 29, 2018 GMT

By Chad Garner

Special to the Sentinel & Enterprise

FITCHBURG -- When Lady -- a pure bred golden retriever therapy dog -- walks the halls at Memorial Middle School, she’s greeted with hugs, kisses and extra attention by the students.

Lady is already doing her job, bringing down student stress and anxiety, while raising happiness during the school day.

“The students are thrilled to see her,” said Memorial Psychologist Beth Foley, who has been with Lady throughout the extensive training process. “The positives are many. The students and staff both report feeling happier and less stressed when she is in the building. They love her smile when she greets them.”

Lady will be 5-years old in August. She has a very calm and sweet demeanor, says Foley.

“She loves attention from my family, and staff and students at Memorial,” Foley said. “She loves to go to ‘work.’ She will bring me her green work leash in her mouth when I am getting ready for work. She is very intelligent and has learned so many new things in a very short time.”

Foley started her therapy dog research in 2015. She later reached out to staff members at other schools who had therapy dogs and were using them. She also looked up the latest research and data on the use of therapy dogs in schools, particularly focusing on districts with similar demographics to Fitchburg.

Foley had many telephone conversations with the National Education for Assistance Dog Services about their program and process.

Foley pitched the idea about getting a therapy dog to Memorial Principal Fran Thomas.

“I explained what I had in mind for Memorial and he gave me his blessing to begin the process,” Foley said.

She then started looking for a dog.

Foley eventually got in contact with a breeder in Plymouth, New Hampshire, to meet two potential dogs that could be for purchase.

“I fell in love with the calm temperament of the dog who was then called ‘Tootsie,’” Foley said.

Fitchburg Public Schools Superintendent Andre Ravenelle fully supported the initiative of having Lady as a therapy pet at Memorial.

“Fitchburg Public Schools was more than happy to integrate this new dynamic approach into our existing pet-therapy initiative,” Ravenelle said. “The enthusiasm and quality of program which Beth Foley brought our existing initiative expanded and enhanced opportunities for kids.”

School committee member Sally Cragin’s highly-successful Be PAWSitive therapy animals and community education program had already been established within the FPS. “The positive impact of pet therapy on student mental health is proven and significant,” Ravenelle said. “It is a win-win for students, staff and for the school community in general.”

On March 23, “Tootsie” eventually came home with Foley.

“After a few days of getting to know her, it was clear that she was the perfect dog for what I wanted to do,” Foley said. “I thought long and hard about a name which would suit her, be respected by the middle-school students and could be translated into other languages for the ESL students. So ‘Tootsie’ became ‘Lady.’”

They began training classes for both the Therapy Dog International and Canine Good Citizen (CGC) -- two days per week for six weeks -- within two weeks of when Lady arrived at her new home with Foley.

Lady has completed her TDI classes and will be tested. She has completed the classes and the test for the CGC.

“This is our first American Kennel Club title together,” Foley said.

Foley had a custom Memorial green vest made for Lady. There’s a dog bed in Foley’s office.

“Students come looking for her often during their lunches to have lunch with Lady,” Foley said.

Lady also made a surprise appearance recently during the 21st Century Summer Camp at Memorial Middle School.

Foley believes that the students and staff of Memorial will benefit from having a full-time therapy dog in the building.

The goal, says Foley, is to have Lady at Memorial in the fall on most school days.

“She has been coming in one or two days per week while training already,” Foley said. “I plan to have her participate in my groups for grief, depression, anxiety and diabetes. She will also visit classrooms. I plan to have her spend time with our ESL students who are learning to speak and read English. She is a very patient listener.”

And happy and full of love.

Garner is the Fitchburg Public Schools’ Family and Community Partnership Champion.