Middle school welcomes therapy dog

ANDY HALLMAN/Ledger photo

Fifth-grader Mackenzie Brobston describes Cash as “my best friend.”
ANDY HALLMAN/Ledger photo Fifth-grader Mackenzie Brobston describes Cash as “my best friend.”

Tell a Fairfield Middle School student they have to go to the principal’s office, and it will put a smile on their face.

Why? Because they’ll get to see Principal Laura Atwood’s dog Cash, whom she brings to work with her every day. Atwood got Cash in May 2018 when he was 12 weeks old, and has been bringing him to the school on a regular basis since Christmas break.

He is an English doodle, a hybrid between a poodle and English golden retriever. Atwood picked out that breed because it is mild-tempered, not nearly as hyper as a golden doodle. She acquired him to use as a therapy dog in the school.

Special education instructor Jennifer DeManuele-Kinder had been requesting a dog for the past three years. Atwood agreed it would be a great addition to the school. Atwood was willing to take on the responsibility of housing the dog, she just needed to get an “all clear” from her husband. The couple already owned two dogs, so could a third be that much more work? Her husband thought the kids would appreciate a therapy dog, so the Atwoods began their search.

After finding Cash, they sent him to three weeks of training in Anamosa to learn basic commands such as sit, lie down, come, shake and to stay in one place until he’s given another command. Atwood said he responds to his commands very well.

Cash spends most of his day with Atwood in her office, but he’s also used by FMS guidance counselor Jay Thompson.

“Cash is a great asset to our building and learning environment,” Thompson said. “I have utilized Cash on several occasions when students in my counseling office were upset, nervous, or anxious. Cash provides a calming presence that allows students to both relax and reset their emotions.”

Thompson said it is critical for students to learn how to “reset” themselves emotionally in order to return to class and be ready to learn.

“I have observed students be able to reset themselves with Cash’s assistance,” he said. “Many kids’ days have been brightened by Cash and we are lucky to have him!”

Atwood often takes Cash with her when she roams the halls or visits classrooms.

“I get more smiles out of the kids when I walk with Cash,” Atwood said. “He brings out the best in people. The kids love him.”

Atwood said Cash tends to be more playful when she’s not around. She also noticed that he adopts a professional attitude when going from their home to the school.

“He knows school is his work zone,” she said. “When he jumps out of the car to go to school, he really listens to his commands.”

Cash is the first dog to routinely visit the middle school. Fairfield High School English teacher Fred Hucke began bringing his dog Sammy to class earlier this school year. At the time The Ledger profiled Sammy in the fall, he was a therapy dog in training.

Atwood said dogs are becoming more and more common in schools as they realize the benefits the animals provide.

“We’re seeing more need for the mental health component of education,” she said. “Therapy dogs are an easy and fun way of having an animal at school to help kids.”

Atwood said allergies have not been a problem so far, partly because Cash’s breed does not shed much. She knows not all students are comfortable around dogs, and she’s mindful to give them space so they don’t get scared. She mentioned that even the kids who are hesitant at first around Cash have, over time, gotten acclimated to him and now enjoy petting him.

“Cash is a big dog, so he can be intimidating,” Atwood said. “But he’s very calm.”

Atwood said she expects Cash to live 10-15 years based on his breed.

Sixth-graders Brock Metz and Orlando Wilburn said they love petting Cash when they see him in the hallway.

“He puts me in a good mood,” Wilburn said.

“I can tell he loves being here and being with the kids,” Metz added.

Fifth-grader Mackenzie Brobston described Cash as “my best friend.” Atwood sometimes hands the leash to Brobston so she can take Cash on walks through the building.

“I like his new haircut,” Brobston remarked. “He’s so handsome. Cash is one of my favorite dogs. He always loves to cuddle, and he’s never tried to run away. He makes me happy.”