Jade McGarrigle is celebrating a full year of going to school with her service dog, Geo. The 11-year-old’s mom, Krystal Peluso, says the dog has done wonders for helping her daughter, who has been diagnosed with autism, deal with anxiety.
“It’s been really relieving knowing she can go to school and she has a best buddy with her the whole time,” Peluso said Monday at Douglasdale School in Calgary.
“He is going to make sure that she is safe, that she is calm and her day is going to be better because he is with her.”
It’s been a long process to get the Labrador retriever in the classroom. First Geo required two years of training from Lions Foundation of Canada Dog Guides.
Following that, he needed to spend a full year with his new family.
Jade’s teacher, Ellie Hrynuik, also needed to be trained in dog handling, as the Lions foundation requires the dog must have a handler when it’s in the school. The foundation covered the cost of two days of training for both the dog and teacher.
“In the hallways he sometimes gets breaks without his vest on and so we will walk around and everyone can pet him,” Hrynuik said.
“When he has his vest on the kids are awesome now to remember that they can’t talk to him or touch him.
“But they talk to Jade and he really helps with the social aspect with helping her with confidence and going into different situations so she can have that comfort and calmness.”
Students at the school have seen the positive effects Geo has had on Jade. Inspired by that, the Grade 4 students raised $5,000 for a service dog organization.
“Geo doesn’t just impact Jade, he impacts all of us,” Tatum Jensen said. “We know what it’s like to have one so we thought that it shouldn’t just be us experiencing it — other schools should be able to see and have a service dog and it should help them too.”
The Calgary Board of Education (CBE) has an administrative regulation regarding service dogs that states:
“CBE is committed to providing inclusive services and access. Service dog access is provided on the basis of the CBE’s duty to accommodate an individual who requires the use of a service dog.
“Each request for the use of a service dog will be considered on an individual basis with the will to accommodate. CBE is required to operate within the guidelines and expectations outlined by the Alberta Service Dogs Act and the Alberta Human Rights Act.”
The Alberta Service Dog Act does not specifically address service dogs in schools. According to a statement from the Ministry of Community and Social Services Alberta, “In Alberta people with disabilities have the right to bring their qualified service dogs into any public place, including schools.”
But not all families children that have service dogs have had the support Jade’s family has seen, according to Peluso.
“It’s been a challenge for other families,” she said. “It’s hard on them for sure because they’ve had such a benefit with the dog at home and they really want to open up that door to having that benefit school.
“Then they have that pushback — whether it’s a child is afraid or there is an allergy or just overall there’s not a lot of support.”
Children at Douglasdale School that suffer from allergies have been accommodated by keeping Geo out of common areas and students who are fearful of dogs have been individually introduced to him.
“If there are kids that are afraid and there was one in my class, we had the dog’s vest off during breaks and the kids would come and they could throw balls for him or something that was engaging and learn that Geo was trustworthy and calm,” Hrynuik said.