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Lakota Local Schools' therapy dog program brings smiles to students and staffers

school therapy dog
Posted at 5:34 PM, Oct 06, 2021

Where "Biggs" goes, students follow. And when the golden retriever hunkers down, he's a tender touch point.

Biggs, short for Biggles, is one of the trained furry faces in the Lakota Local Schools' therapy dog program.

The school district aims to make life on campus better for students and staffers. The district will welcome its eighth dog next week.

"If we notice a student is having a difficult day, they get one-on-one time with Biggs," said VanGorden Elementary School principal Julie Engelbert.

Lakota Local Schools superintendent Matt Miller has noticed the impact of Biggs first hand.

"When I take him out in the community, there are kids that may not recognize me, and I'm OK with that, but they'll recognize Biggs. So they'll run right up to him," said Miller.

At Endeavor Elementary in West Chester Township, Braxton is the big dog on campus. His photo even hangs in the office.

Principal LeAnna Webber welcomed him to her school family and her own home.

"He is kind of like my fourth son," Webber said. "He sleeps at my house, has a bed in my room."

Webber walks him through classes because she's seen how a dose of dog love goes a long way.

"You get to pet him and I think that makes me feel a lot better," Endeavor fifth-grader Sophie Glacken said.

Webber said a lot of students say they attend school because Braxton is in the building.

"We have kids who have needs beyond anything we've seen before," said Andrea Longworth, Lakota Local Schools' executive director of special services. "Just knowing the unjudgmental factors dogs have. It's unconditional. They love everyone."

Lakota would not be able to have its canine corps without Circle Tail, a non-profit group that trains the dogs and the staff members who take them home after school. Circle Tail raises money to reduce the cost for schools – finding ways to include therapy dogs in the budget.

The school district has a goal of one dog in each of its 23 buildings, a sign that the program has been very successful.

"To know it's impacting one by one – that is my hope for it to continue," Webber said.