Kurri Kurri High School students have been very excited lately due to the newest member of the school community – Emmet, an eight-month-old miniature schnauzer.
Emmet is under the care of district school counsellor Toni Falk, who has undertaken considerable research within educational settings, into the benefits of pet therapy, or what is known more formally as “animal assisted intervention”.
Ms Falk said Emmet’s gentle temperament, training and hypoallergenic coat make him perfectly suited to his new role at Kurri High.
Emmet has completed the Delta Companion: Canine Good Citizens Program as part of the process to help equip him for school activities and therapy work.
“The powerful impact of pets on emotional, mental and physical health has been well documented, along with their ability to reach a diverse range of students and assist in educational settings,” Ms Falk said.
“The right type of ‘school dog’ can increase positive feelings of attachment to school and also improve students sense of wellbeing while at school.
Ms Falk said it has been delightful to witness the joyous comments from so many students when they have the opportunity to cuddle or pat Emmet.
One student said: “OMG! This is the best school day ever!” and other said “Why didn’t this happen years ago?”
“Even teachers have been amazed by the ‘Emmet Effect’, particularly when they see some of the tougher youth within the school enjoying sookie cuddles with Emmet,” Ms Falk said.
Wanting a photo with Emmet has become such a trend at the school that Emmet now has his own Instagram account (@cuddleswithemmet) where studies can post their selfies with their favourite new school friend.
Emmet has also been spreading his puppy love at Cessnock Public School and Koe-Nara playgroup on Mondays.
Ms Falk said a therapy dog offers unconditional acceptance and companionship and helps students feel less isolated because they help promote an emotionally safe, less institutionalised environment.
“Students report a feeling of trust as well as being heard and understood; factors that allow a young person to communicate more openly,” she said.
“Of course dogs are not for everyone and when students have an aversion to animals/dogs etc., Emmet simply has a nice sleep in a separate space.
“And while Emmet is not a magic bullet, there will be days when he can bring just a little bit of light, laughter and magic into the lives our students.”
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