The addition of two autism service dogs at a secondary school in Co Kerry has helped to calm students’ anxiety, soothe emotional difficulties, and make the school day more enjoyable for staff and students.
That’s according to teacher Deirdre Prendergast, who says the addition of poodle-crosses Fifi and Bosco at Pobalscoil Inbhear Scéine has become a “true success story” for the school in Kenmare.
With Fifi and Bosco attending school five days a week and spending the majority of their days in the school’s ASD unit, teachers have noticed the pooches’ presence has a significant positive effect on their students.
“The dogs make us all smile,” Ms Prendergast told the Irish Examiner.
“They love going to school every day. It is great to see such happy dogs around the school and it’s amazing to see the effect they have on everyone in the school community.”
The “super-doggies” enrolled at Pobalscoil Inbhear Scéine thanks to My Canine Companion, a charity that provides trained service dogs to people with disabilities, particularly autism.
“The dogs calm one of our students when he is having an anxiety attack or when he is generally feeling very low or anxious,” said Ms Prendergast.
“When Bosco (a white ‘golden-doodle’) goes into his classroom, he senses him out and lies silently beside him. His attendance has improved and he is ‘signing out’ less frequently because of the dogs.
“He thrives on being given responsibility to mind Bosco.”
The dogs have also helped calm students with emotional difficulties, and in the case of a bereavement, she added.
Students who have difficulties socialising also enjoy the chance to take either dog for a walk as it encourages other students to stop and talk.
Transition year students in the school are also involved in the training of Fifi and Bosco and regularly bring the pair to visit their local community hospital.
“The patients there are always delighted to see them,” said Ms Prendergast.
“The students know that when Fifi and Bosco have their jackets on, they are working and they are not supposed to pet them, but in the mornings, before they start their work, they usually have a game of ball with the mainstream students.
“I would definitely recommend that more schools look at taking a service dog on board,” she added.