Waverly Yowell Elementary School welcomed its newest employee last week, and boy is she hairy.
Sawyer, a Golden Retriever, started her first day on the job last week. She’s specifically trained to be a therapy dog and will help students learn, building confidence, regulate emotions, reach goals and lesson anxiety and stress. She is based out of Lila Azhari-Harris’ fifth-grade classroom. Azhari-Harris is Sawyer’s handler and trainer. The two are considered a team and were tested and observed together during Sawyer’s certification process. She’s registered with the Alliance of Therapy Dogs and has also passed the American Kennel Club Canine Good Citizen Test.
Azhari-Harris said prior to bringing Sawyer into the school, the pair were visiting nursing homes. She said the dog is very mild mannered, taking everything in stride and is easy going.
Bringing a therapy dog into the school is something Azhari-Harris said she takes very seriously. She worked with superintendent Anna Graham to develop a therapy dog policy. The policy includes requirements on how someone can request to have a therapy dog at school, training and testing the dog and handler must complete, health and vaccinations and control. The policy also holds the handler responsible for any damage to property, gives administrators license to remove dog given a variety of circumstances, includes plan for equitable access for students and gives guidelines for proper notification for parents/guardians, faculty and staff. The policy was approved by the school board during this month’s meeting.
“This is a wonderful opportunity that can very easily go bad,” Azhari-Harris said. “We want to make sure we’re setting a standard for a good program for our kids.”
She said part of the program is teaching students and staff how to interact with a service dog and be good stewards of Sawyer.
“The first couple of weeks students are going to be excited,” Azhari-Harris said. “Then everyone settles down and [Sawyer] gets in a routine, too.”
Azhari-Harris said students used to forget that her previous service dog, Emmy, was in the classroom.
Azhari-Harris said she plans to have Sawyer at school two to three days a week.