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The Student News Site of Altoona Area High School

Mountain Echo

The Student News Site of Altoona Area High School

Mountain Echo

Administration to consider frequent therapy dog visits

Charlie Kephart
Puppy Love. Wanda Vanish’s dog, Rusty, sits quietly on Olivia McMinn’s lap as she plays a card game as part of team building with fellow yearbook staff members. Vanish and history teacher John Saboe have brought their personal dogs in for trial run days.

After speaking with superintendent Brad Hatch, it has been confirmed that the administrative team is more than open to exploring the opportunities of having licensed therapy dogs in the classrooms due to the multiple benefits and positive feedback received from McKinley’s test day.

Since the beginning of the school year, an event has been taking place in the library once a week; “Therapy Dog Thursdays.” Volunteers bring their certified therapy dogs into school and students are allowed to visit them throughout the day. Two teachers take part in that program and are hopeful their dogs could become a more routine part of the school day.  

“Mrs. Sauka came to me asking for help from the Mountain Echo reporters to promote the therapy dog program.  When I heard about what Mr. Saboe was doing with McKinley, I wanted to get involved.  So my dog Rusty and I became certified, and he started visiting the school. After McKinley’s day long test visit, Rusty also visited for the day before holiday break. It’s amazing to see the change to the environment he brings to both the adults and students in the building,” teacher Wanda Vanish said.

To explore the possibility of dogs being a more regular part of the classroom, teacher John Saboe brought in his dog McKinley to be a part of an entire school day.  McKinley started the day greeting all of the students in the main entrance and then spent the day in Saboe’s classroom and visiting other meetings and classrooms.

“A few teachers, including librarian Mrs. Lucas had researched the uses and benefits of therapy dogs to help students, and we thought it would be a good idea and a good chance to get therapy dogs started in the school,” principal Andrew Neely said. 

In addition to “Therapy Dog Thursdays”, some are hoping to have more regular therapy dog visits. Teachers who have gone through proper training and have brought their dogs in to serve as therapy dogs hope to make them a permanent part of the school environment. Social worker Patty Sauka originally brought up the idea to administrators. 

“I saw dogs going to McAuliffe Heights and other elementary schools and doing visits, but we haven’t really seen it at a secondary level. Somebody in administration already agreed to having dogs in school in the library, so it was easier than anticipated to talk to them about it. I went to Mrs. Lucas about it, and that’s how dogs started coming to the library,” Sauka said. 

Saboe was the first teacher approved for this program. His dog, McKinley, is a six year old Bernese mountain dog. 

“McKinley is just super special. She loves other people and loves the opportunity to get out and meet people,” Saboe said. “And for me, being able to share McKinley is the joy of having her be a therapy dog. Being able to take her around and see the smiles that she puts on faces is really rewarding.”   

McKinley’s training has allowed her to become a licensed therapy dog. She will be joined Saboe in his classroom during the school day. On Dec. 12, McKinley came into school for a “test run” day. McKinley is actually double certified as a therapy dog.   

“She had to be observed in three different situations, and the first situation, and all three of them had to be in public to become certified for school,” Saboe said. “McKinley had already gone through a training course as a younger dog. She has her AKC (American Kennel Club) Good Citizen training.”

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About the Contributor
Charlie Kephart
Charlie Kephart, Associate Editor
Hey everyone! My name is Charlie, I'm a junior and Associate Editor of the Mountain Echo. I was on the Livewire staff in Jr High and Mt Echo staff since 10th grade. I have had a passion for writing since 4th grade and even promised my 4th grade ELA teacher that I would publish a book some day. My main goals in life are to go into the medical field at Pitt. Whenever I am not at school, I enjoy watching Netflix, reading and hanging out with my boyfriend. I'm super excited to write stories to keep you guys updated on everything going on here at our school!

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