Gracie The Therapy Dog

August 31, 2020

Gracie walks the halls of Lewis Cass as if she owns them. Head held high, she makes her way from one student to another, often cutting a path to a teacher before making her way back to the open hallway.

This is her first year at the school. Even though she can be bashful, for the most part, Gracie is very outgoing.

She has to be. Being confident around people is what makes her so great at her “job.”

At only 1½ years old, Gracie is by far the youngest in attendance at Lewis Cass. Yet, her responsibility is one of the most important – Gracie works as a therapy dog, providing comfort and care for students, especially those who need emotional support.

“We don’t have a mental health program, so I thought Gracie would be a way to help students,” said Gracie’s owner, Jenny Hines, who has served for eight years as the school’s junior-high counselor.

A few years ago, Hines had a puppy that was hit by a car. From that moment, she wasn’t positive that she would ever want a dog, again. However, falling in love with a friend’s mini labradoodle led her to Gracie, a mini goldendoodle.

But, it wasn’t until Hines noticed Gracie’s demeanor with others that she believed her dog would make a good therapy agent. At one of her family’s sporting events, Hines said Gracie wandered away and made friends with an individual who had Down syndrome. Gracie sprawled out next to the person, and the two formed an instant bond.

So, at 6 months, Gracie began taking basic obedience classes and then progressed to therapy training.

“Temperament is very important. She has to understand basic commands and listen very well,” Hines explained to a group of high school students during their Animal Science class Friday. “In fact, she probably listens better than any of my kids.”

Laughing at that comment, the noise jostled Gracie into motion. Meandering her way under desks and rubbing against legs, students were overjoyed when Gracie began visiting them. At the same time, Hines explained the process of training a dog, even inviting ninth-grade student, Maggie Taylor, to issue commands such as “lie down,” “sit,” and “stay.”

After obeying each instruction, Taylor rewarded Gracie with a “good girl” and a head rub.

Hines said petting a dog after a command is valuable because “the pet should be rewarded for behavior.” It helps reinforce technique. For example, she said, “you want to make sure the dog will ‘heel,’ which is making sure she stays close … she is good about staying close to someone in a wheelchair. You don’t want her to jump on people at random.”

Instead, Hines showed the class how to encourage Gracie to jump on them if that would be something they wanted. Almost everyone volunteered to try that command. Laughing at the show of excitement, Heather Smith, teacher of the Animal Science class, said this was the perfect ending to the session the class recently completed on service animals.

“They bring such joy to people,” Hines said of therapy dogs. “I have a neighbor who lost her [loved one] and Gracie goes to visit. She gets rocked.

“A dog has no expectation,” she said. “She just wants you to love her.”

And, it’s that lack of expectation students find helpful during counseling sessions. They don’t have to worry about what a parent, a friend or a teacher thinks, explained Hines. Instead, it’s simply the student with a dog. There’s nothing but friendship, fun and love.

Plus, “if you have an overwhelming day, the dog helps calm you down,” said ninth-grader Kaden Benner.

Emme Grisez, 10th grade, agreed, asking if it would be possible for students to bring service dogs to school.

While Hines thinks surrounding a person with animals sounds like a fun idea, there are requirements in place to have service or therapy dogs in the classroom, she said.

And, said Smith, having a dog in one class might work well, but it might be distracting in others.

Regardless of the situation, though, students see value in having Gracie, said Hines, adding that the shout-outs, the smiles and the cuddles that the kids give her dog are all testaments to that. Even though Gracie helps people in various situations, Hines said that “she doesn’t do anything miraculous.”

For those students who need emotional or mental health support, though, Gracie might just be the miracle they need.

  • Most Recent News

    Oscar The Blind Dog

    November 25, 2020

    In the weeks leading up to a heated presidential election, another close race played out that had dog lovers across the country faithfully voting online every 24 hours for their favorite furry friends. For four weeks, from Sept. 10 to Oct. 9, nearly 1 million votes were cast in Garden & Gun magazine’s Good Dog […]

    Read more

    Genius Dog Challenge

    November 25, 2020

    Six dogs are competing to become the world’s smartest dog – a title reserved for the pooch that learns words the fastest. Shany Dror is a driving force behind the Genius Dog Challenge, which is live streamed on Facebook and YouTube every week until December 16, when the winner will be announced. The canine challenge […]

    Read more

    Finding Homes For Dogs

    November 25, 2020

    Adoptable Animal Rescue Force gives back to the community by finding the right homes for dogs. We’ve been a Teller County nonprofit, no-kill rescue since 1999. Social networking has allowed us to expand our services in recent years to include dogs coming in from high kill shelters in New Mexico and Texas. There are times […]

    Read more

    Service Dog Retiring

    November 25, 2020

    Talking to police or giving testimony at a courthouse, can be a scary experience for many. Since 2014, service dogs have been allowed in the courtroom to provide emotional support for those in need. For Emery Baert, having Madison with her made a huge difference. “If she wasn’t there, to this day, I wouldn’t know […]

    Read more

    A Shelter Dog's Life

    November 25, 2020

    The sound of paws and claws precedes Isabella’s entrance. She bursts out of the Worcester Animal Rescue League’s front door, dragging Sara McClure, WARL’s dog program coordinator, behind her. McClure has two hands on Izzy’s bright red leash as the pit bull mix comes barreling into the parking lot. McClure motions for me to take […]

    Read more

    Veterans Court Therapy Dog

    November 25, 2020

    Howard County Superior Court II Judge Brant Parry stood in his courtroom last week and looked around like he had lost something. “You want to see her?” he asked, still looking around the mostly empty room. A few moments later, a brown fluff of fur came bounding through an open back door, prompting instant smiles […]

    Read more

    Painted Paws Helps Veterans

    November 25, 2020

    When Tyler Warrick came home from serving in the Iraq war, he suffered from Post Traumatic Stress Syndrome. “My little dog, Moose, gave me a purpose to get up every day and deal with life,” he says. That was the genesis of Painted Paws for Veterans, a nonprofit operating in Peyton that rescues dogs from […]

    Read more

    CK Police Dog

    November 25, 2020

    A police dog with the Chatham-Kent Police Service and his handler are being praised for their work over the past seven years, which has resulted in dozens of arrests and the seizure of thousands of dollars worth of illicit drugs. K9 Officer Arry and Constable Rick Bertok received an official citation from the Chatham-Kent Police […]

    Read more

    Three-legged Therapy Dog

    November 25, 2020

    We here at NEWS CENTER Maine met Lucky at the start of 2019. Army veteran Christy Gardner was training him to be a therapy dog, and she brought him by the news station, while he was training with her older service dog, Moxie. Lucky was born a little different, with a right paw that didn’t […]

    Read more

    Dog Therapy

    November 25, 2020

    Holiday House Pet Resort and Training Center donated $1,020 to the nonprofit therapy dog organization Angel On A Leash. The funds were raised during the pet facility’s annual Halloween fundraiser taking portraits of dogs in costumes. Proceeds were earmarked for AOAL’s day-to-day expenses to support the work by volunteers with their therapy dogs — called champion teams […]

    Read more

    More Recent News