Brook Park School’s newest staff member is only about 2-feet tall, has long, floppy ears and a shaggy coat of brown fur.
Sailor – that’s his name – is one of four therapy dogs in Brookfield-LaGrange Park District 95 during the 2023-24 school year. He’ll be there to provide comfort and joy to both students and other staff members twice a month.
The school district’s new therapy dog program was proposed last spring by Cathy Cannon, assistant superintendent for teaching and learning for District 95, and she’s worked throughout the summer identifying dogs and their owners as good fits for both Brook Park School in LaGrange Park and S.E. Gross Middle School in Brookfield.
Last week, Cannon sent letters out to all families in the district introducing the dog therapy program, which families can opt out of if they choose, for whatever reason.
Cannon is in the final stages of vetting the two dogs for S.E. Gross Middle School and the second dog for Brook Park. Those three dogs have been sourced through Therapaw, a program affiliated with the Hinsdale Humane Society.
Sailor, a 7-year-old Goldendoodle, comes to Brook Park School through Love on a Leash, a California-based nonprofit with a network of certified therapy dogs/owners throughout the country.
“I’m very excited for this opportunity and for the enthusiasm surrounding it from the board level and teachers,” Cannon told the Landmark in a phone interview. “There’s an excitement building up to the start of a school year, and this adds another layer of excitement rolling out a new year.”
The two therapy dogs assigned to each building will be onsite twice a month, working with students in the different grade levels.
Cannon has convened a committee of teachers who are meeting to brainstorm how the dogs can be used in each grade. Those interactions could be a way to encourage attendance or work on reading and writing skills. For students who are struggling academically or emotionally, the dogs could be used to help staff support those students or be calming influences.
“Sailor’s role at [Brook Park School] will be to visit classrooms, participate in reading sessions and be available to offer support and affection to any student who may benefit from spending time with him,” Cannon wrote in her letter to Brook Park families last week.
Each dog and owner assigned to the school district will be certified and Cannon said she has evaluated each dog’s temperament to make sure they are good fits for the buildings they’ll be working in.
Students who are allergic to dogs or who may be afraid of them can be opted out of the program. The dogs will interact with students in designated areas of each school.
Cannon rolled out the therapy dog program to the entire district staff at institute days scheduled prior to the first day of school on Aug. 23. Even before the institute days, the response from staff has been very positive, according to Cannon.
“They are already asking if they can have water bowls, dog treats and dog beds in their classrooms,” Cannon told the Landmark. “We will walk through all the logistics prior to the start date for the dog therapy program that is expected to launch in September.”