Providence’s furry new faculty

Published 8:04 pm Wednesday, March 8, 2017

Many staff members and students at The Providence School in Wilmore are feeling calmer and lighter, and it has a lot to do with two new furry full-time employees.

On Wednesday, Kompass, a 2-year-old Blue Heeler and Australian Cattle Dog mix from the Humane Society in Lexington and Erik, an 8-year-old Dachshund and Red Heeler mix from the Dachshund Rescue in Georgetown, were welcomed to come work in the Day Treatment at The Providence School, thanks to a unanimous approval at a school board meeting on Monday, Feb. 27.

“In two days, they’ve changed the dynamic of this program,” said Regina Spencer, the Day Treatment counselor at The Providence School. 

Email newsletter signup

Erik and Kompass may work at the school, but they go home with Spencer.

Both dogs have completed a minimum of six weeks’ worth of training to become therapy dogs. During that training, they were taught to sit, withstand strange dogs, withstand loud noises, such as banging on doors and to not be affected by their owner feeding other dogs.

Kompass — who joined the family at the end of December — is currently in the process of becoming a service dog that will be able to detect and aid students with anxiety.

For the past three years, Erik has worked as a therapy dog alongside Spencer during her career as a clinical social worker.

Spencer said she was inspired by observing the way therapy dogs worked out for other schools.

“Once I saw them in Scott County Schools, I knew that we needed them here,” she said.

One of the challenges of having the dogs in the facility was getting over a wall of apprehension about dogs being a liability to the school. 

Both Erik and Kompass are covered by Pawsibilities Unleashed and by Spencer personally.

On Wednesday, the students of The Providence School started the day off on a positive note by interacting and getting to pet the new furry employees.

Spencer said the biggest hurdle is that the dogs are not always able to make it to everyone who asks to pet them.

“They’re wanted everywhere,” she said.

The calming canines are at the school five days a week. During a class, students get to clicker train the dogs, take them to the bathroom, pet them and just spend time with them. Though there is a designated time at the end of the day for students to visit with the dogs, they are open at any time for those who need them.

“If someone is upset or angry or needs to talk, then they can come in here,” Spencer said.

Students who were previously shy, are now beginning to come out of their shells because they enjoy talking about their own dogs at home, Spencer said.

“It’s opened up a whole new mode of communication and positivity,” she said.

The dogs also serve as a tool to help students talk about things that are going on in their lives and within themselves.

“There are kids that will come in who are completely shut down, but they will talk to a dog,” Spencer said.

The dogs aren’t the only animals who help students learn and express their feelings. There is also full-time class Monday through Thursday where students get to interact and learn about horses at Asbury University. They observe the behaviors and body language of the horses to determine their mood. Students also learn how to get the horses to do what they want through their own body language and actions. Spencer said The Providence School is the only school in Kentucky that does Equine Assisted Growth and Learning Association for high school credit.

Sadly, the horses must stay in the barn, but the dogs are there for the students throughout the entire school day, working hard to keep the atmosphere light, whether it be through licking, snoring or just being cute.

At the moment, the two new furry faculty members come at no cost to the school because Spencer is taking care of everything.

“I’m willing to foot whatever bill it takes,” Spencer said. “That’s the difference they make in these kids’ lives.”

Eventually, Spencer said she would love to have a program where the kids can train dogs before they get adopted. But if it was a possibility, it would be much farther down the road.

The principal of The Providence School, Charlanne Pook, said she has been on board with the idea of having therapy dogs from the beginning. The school approached the Jessamine County School Board with the idea in October.

Currently, the dogs are only in the Day Treatment Program — which, as of Wednesday, has had fewer write-ups for behavior. Pook said eventually she would like to see them throughout the entire building.

“They’re just so calming,” she said. “And it’s just unconditional love with an animal.”

She said the dogs are making such a positive impact on students, causing those who hardly ever grinned to be smiling all the time.

“It brings tears to your eyes when you know the story behind those kids, and then seeing them with those animals,” she said.

Pook said there is at least one other school in the district who would like to follow in The Providence School’s footsteps.

“They’re pretty cool,” said Dylan Hifner, an eighth-grade student at The Providence School who enjoys interacting with the dogs. “It’s something new and they’re comforting.”