Jessamine County Schools welcomes seventh therapy dog to its pack

Published 9:00 am Friday, May 26, 2023

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Thanks to school guidance counselor Sasha Turansky, Warner and Wilmore Elementary schools have a new fluffy friend: a therapy dog named Marley.

Jessamine County Schools have enlisted the help of therapy dogs since 2017 when The Providence School brought in an eight-year-old Dachshund/Red Heeler Mix and a two-year-old Blue Heeler/Australian Cattle dog mix. Now, the district has seven therapy dogs with another one in the acceptance process.

A therapy dog is quite different from a service animal as they are dogs that are trained to provide affection, comfort and support to people in settings such as hospitals, retirement homes, nursing homes, schools, libraries, hospices or disaster areas.

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One-year-old Aussiedoodle Marley and Turansky split their week between the Wilmore and Warner Elemenatries.Marley has already made quite an impression on students and staff alike.

“She literally makes everyone smile. The minute she walks into the building, people are like, ‘Marley, you’re here!’ And if she’s not here, they know. I’ve had parents tell me that they’ve had kids who have rough mornings, and then they come through the car lane and they see us standing there and they say, “Look! Marley’s here!’ And the kid hops right out of the car,” said Turansky.

The decision to add a therapy dog to Warner and Wilmore was Turansky’s idea from experiencing therapy dogs with kids first-hand. In fact, she had been waiting for the opportunity.

“I knew when I finished my counseling program and got a job that I would want a dog like who could come to school cause I just saw the benefits and what it could do for kids and for staff, so that was kind of always in the back of my head,” Turansky said.

Turansky worked at the Early Learning Village as a special education teacher for ten years- when she first witnessed a therapy dog. The village’s counselor, Heather Kidd, trained her dog Honey to serve at the village.

With her Goldendoodle at home being eight-years-old, she knew she would have to find a younger pup to start this journey. So, last summer, Turansky was connected to a woman whose dog recently had puppies, which is when she found Marley.

“The lady was so excited that she was gonna be a school dog, she gave us half off the price, so it all just kind of fell into my lap and I was like okay it’s real now. We have to do this. Like, you have another dog and this is her purpose. But it’s been the best thing,” Turansky said.

To bring on a therapy dog, the school counselor interested in training a therapy dog must first clear the request through the principal and then go to Superintendent Matt Moore who approves and puts it on the school board’s agenda. After the board approved, Turansky started training Marley for the Canine Good Citizen certification. This process has created a tight bond between Turansky and her Aussiedoodle.

“We’re really lucky to have such a progressive school board that realizes the need and the good that these dogs do,” Turansky said, “They want all the dogs they can get, so we’re really fortunate.”

Warner Elementary Principal Emily Coy said it didn’t take much to convince her to have a dog at school.

“Well, personally I’m a dog lover so I have my own dog at home and our dog is family and so I know how much joy a dog brings to my family,” Coy said, “I knew how much joy Marley would bring to our kids, staff members, and our family members when they’re here.”

Creating relationships with Marley and Turansky has also already boosted students’ emotional intelligence. Turansky is teaching the children how to use boundaries and respect Marley and each other.

“It’s been really good, like when we do ‘Meet Marley’, a lot of kids will ask if she’ll bite, and it’s a great opportunity for us to say, ‘If you treat Marley with kindness and respect, and you are doing all of our school-wide expectations, she will not bite you. If you’re being unkind and she feels unsafe, she might have to defend herself.’ So, even being able to work that language in, has been really helpful,” Turansky said.

Therapy dogs are known for their ability to help with emotional regulation and being a resource for mental health issues. Marley has helped relax students before tests, and is also helpful for stressed-out teachers who visit Marley and pet her or take her on a walk to destress.

Turansky said the district is great about recognizing mental health needs as it continues adding therapy dogs and guidance counselors; Recently, the district put Elementary and Secondary School Emergency Relief (ESSER) fund monies into hiring more conselors for the schools.

In so many situations, Marley brings peace, according to Principal Coy. Turansky has also taken Marley to a class who was being told about a classmate of theirs being ill.

“I walked her around, she was nudging kids, letting them pet her. That was really neat, too,” Turansky said.

At this point, Turansky is seeing Marley learn, too. According to Turansky, she’s now starting to walk up to people who are using their hands a lot in meetings as if to say, “Hey! You need to do something with those hands?”

Turansky is excited for Marley’s future between the two schools, as is Principal Coy, who said that Marley is helping create an even stronger community between classmates.

“One of our core values is relationships and we want to make sure that all of our kids are connected to school in some way and that they feel connected and that they belong because we know that when kids are connected to school, feel like they belong and they’re part of a community they are going to learn at higher levels,” Coy said.