Two Laval schools now have an unusual addition to their staff.
They are therapy dogs that are now being used at Crestview Primary and Laval Junior Academy to help students with special emotional needs.
Both dogs just completed a six-month training program to get used to their environment and now both are fully integrated into their schools. They are part of a Facility Service Dog Program by the Sir Wilfrid Laurier School Board and the Asista Foundation.
“The dog is more of a tool to de-escalate a situation, a crisis situation,” explains John Agionicolaitis, foundation spokesperson.
They say it’s the first time such a program is being used in any Montreal-area school, and it’s making a huge difference.
Ten-year-old Crestview student Maim Rodrigues suffers from anxiety and says having Hope, a two-year-old black Labrador, at the school has helped to calm him down.
“I feel like — I can’t even explain it,” he tells Global News. “I feel so good inside and I can’t even explain it.”
Even his mother Sonia Rodrigues is amazed.
“It’s made a huge difference,” she says, beaming. “When Hope isn’t there and he’s having difficulties at school, they have to call me to come and pick him up or try to help him.”
Other students and staff also benefit. Special education technician Michelina Scala, who handles Hope, takes her to visit classes whenever there’s no student in crisis.
“On a daily basis if there’s no need for Hope she’ll still interact with them, she’ll meet with them, she’ll play with them depending on what they want to do,” she explains.
Students have shown their appreciation. There’s a wall at the entrance hallway covered with messages of inspiration and gratitude to the dog. It’s called the Wall of Hope and is a sign of how close the dog has become to students like Naim, even if he’s allergic to animals.
“I feel like I’m not allergic to her and that’s how much I love her,” he says, patting her. “Right, Hope? I love you so much.”