Alert and therapy dogs help students physically, emotionally

Alert and therapy dogs help students physically, emotionally

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Junior Kira Stahly poses with her diabetic alert dog Roxy at Lincoln High. Photo By Sean Neary

Junior Kira Stahly poses with her diabetic alert dog Roxy at Lincoln High. Photo By Sean Neary

By Sean Neary

As you walk down the halls of Lincoln High, you pass by many diverse people with unique lives. Out of all the different components of LHS Links’ lives, you might have noticed junior Kira Stahly walking with a dog by her side, always in-sync with her actions and emotions. (Whenever Stahly is running and feeling peppy, the dog is running and peppy also).  “I guess we just have a really close bond, and it’s kind of like someone with a family member or a really close friend. Whenever they’re sad, you’re sad. Whenever they’re happy, you’re happy,” Stahly said.

Stahly has Type 1 Diabetes, and Roxy, her alert dog, lets Stahly know if her blood-sugar gets too high or too low. “I have to wear an insulin pump 24/7, and I have to check my blood sugar about 12 times a day,” Stahly said. Roxy goes everywhere with Stahly, keeping her nose peeled for when her blood-sugar gets too high or low and notifying Stahly by bumping her hand.

Type 1 Diabetes used to be called Juvenile Diabetes, meaning that it didn’t come from eating too much junk food or anything else she did. Stahly, however, wasn’t born with it and it isn’t genetic. Her pancreas failed when she was two years old. Ever since then, she has needed a dog but hasn’t had one until recently. Her family hadn’t found the organization that works with them now. In fact, they didn’t even know about dog organizations until a couple years ago. Then they found a different organization with a really long waiting list and very expensive dogs. Then, about a year ago, they found this organization. Stahly has had Roxy for exactly 11 months now.

Roxy’s breed is Basenji Terrier. Stahly wanted this breed on purpose because she preferred a small dog. “I just told the heads at the pound what kind of dog I was looking for and they found this dog (not named Roxy yet) at a shelter,” she said. Stahly also noted that Roxy was a year and a half when she got her, making her about two years old now, leaving Roxy a lot of time she can be with Stahly before her old age.

While Roxy has all that on her load of duties, she also has to refrain from going to the bathroom for hours on end. Luckily, her training has helped her. Roxy has been trained to go to the bathroom in the morning, at night, and during lunch, when Stahly takes her out every day. “She’s always been on her job 24/7, doing what she needs to do,” Stahly said. Although, Roxy is not always obedient to her training, she never fights or protests Stahly, but sometimes she barks at other dogs, something she’s been trained not to do.

Stahly said she takes care of the dog all day and that the only time she needs help is when she’s at a place Roxy cannot go, such as her job. She works at a restaurant, so every day Stahly’s dad will take Roxy out to the bathroom when she’s at work. Roxy is even on the job at night. Roxy sleeps on the floor next to Stahly’s bed. If her blood sugar drops or rises rapidly, she’ll paw at her hand, and Stahly always notices her.

Aside from the dog, Stahly has many other diabetic duties. “I’ve had to do the same, or even more work since I’ve had the dog, I still have to watch how many carbs I’m eating, so I can give myself insulin for it so my blood sugar does not go too high or too low,” she said. However, aside from carbs, she’s not on any diet. Even if she were, she’d still need Roxy.

Like any obstacle should with anyone, Stahly’s dog doesn’t stop her from achieving and being involved. Stahly AND Roxy are in Student Council. What about sports that exclude Roxy? Stahly does some! She’s been dancing since she was three years old and she’s also an LHS Cheerleader. While Stahly does her thing, Roxy just sits on the sidelines and Stahly goes over every so often so she can smell her breath. When Stahly’s on the dance floor or at work, she just watches her blood sugar all the time like she did for the fourteen years before she got Roxy.

Lastly, Stahly added that she loves dogs. Even before she got Roxy, she just “love, love, loved” dogs. Stahly also said she doesn’t like any other animals better. “I like cats, but dogs are my favorite,” she said.

Above: English teacher Deborah McGinn holds therapy dog Squiggles in her classroom. Squiggles belongs to Associate Principal Jill Able but stays in McGinn’s class. Photo By Sean Neary

Above: English teacher Deborah McGinn holds therapy dog Squigglesin her classroom. Squiggles belongs to Associate Principal Jill Able but stays in McGinn’s class. Photo By Sean Neary

Roxy, however, isn’t the only dog at work in the building. English Teacher Deborah McGinn is accompanied by a nine-year-old, female shitzapoo named Squiggles. Squiggles is a cross between a shi tzu and a poodle. Also, Squiggles, as McGinn added, isn’t actually her dog. She belongs to Associate Principal Jill Able. She just comes to McGinn’s room every morning and is in her classroom every day. “As long as Mrs. Able has been at LHS, I’ve been with Squiggles,” McGinn said. “I just fell in love with her, so much that when my cat died of many years, I went to the same place where Squiggles was purchased, and a got my own little black and white male shitzapoo, Spinelli.” According to Able, McGinn is allergic to dogs, but not to Squiggles.

According to Able, when she first got Squiggles, she didn’t know she’d be a trained therapy dog. She was only planning on having her for a pet. At the time, Squiggles was just a puppy. Then, two years later, when Able taught at North Star, she saw other teachers with dogs and started asking questions. She came to the conclusion that it would “calm her classroom” to have a dog with her. She thought Squiggles might be a good candidate and put her into a training called Domesti-pups, or Edu-pups, where therapy dogs have to pass a test of ten items and get certified to be able to come to school. Shockingly, she has to get re-certified every two years, and she’ll be tested this month with fifteen totally new and different items, so hopefully she’ll pass. Just when Squiggles got certified, Able moved to an administrative position. That’s when she started at Lincoln High, so, instead of being in Able’s classroom, she started going in other classrooms. Able made Squiggles open to any classroom each day. At first, Squiggles went to special education and ELL classrooms. She also went to a couple of other classrooms, including McGinn’s, and she fell in love with her. So that first year, Squiggles was spread around a bit, but towards the end she was with McGinn pretty consistently. Now, every day she’s at Lincoln High, Squiggles comes to McGinn’s room.

Squiggles’s main job at LHS is to comfort people and calm the overall mood. “Therapy dogs are good for people,” McGinn said, “If a kid or a teacher is having a bad day, a therapy dog can save their day. I think people just like to be around an animal because they’re joyful.”

“Just to be here,” Able said, “It’s kind of a calming of atmosphere for people to be able to pet her.”

“She doesn’t have to do much,” McGinn said, “All she has to do is come with me every morning and keep me warm on my lap and keep me great company when my students aren’t in the room.”

However, both Able and McGinn added that Squiggles is an “ultra-ultra shy” dog. She doesn’t let ANYBODY pet her when she’s in the hall. Even when she’s in a classroom or office, she doesn’t always let people pet her. In fact, she used to come out and sit under students’ desks, but now she just stays under McGinn’s desk, while students come to visit her. They think it may be because of her age, or maybe because there was construction here when Squiggles first began her career as a therapy dog. Who knows? One good thing about her shyness, however, is that, if McGinn ever has a student who doesn’t like dogs, she/he and Squiggles can each just do their own thing.

“My freshman year when I had Ms. McGinn for my English class, she [Squiggles] always would run under my desk and lay down the second I came into class,” senior Frank Cuddy said. “She wasn’t a huge fan of being petted or anything like that but she WOULD go chase a tennis ball when I would throw it across the room and she wouldn’t do that for anyone else, so I felt pretty special that way. We had a good bond together, I guess.”

“When the construction started, she got kind of scared. She hated the sounds and everything like that so, after that, she was really shy, I guess. She hid under Ms. McGinn’s desk more and quit playing fetch when the construction started. She wasn’t a big noise dog,” Cuddy added. He doesn’t recall any certain moments that changed Squiggles, but, McGinn does. “She and her mother, Associate Principal Jill Able, were in the halls during major construction about seven years ago. They were on second floor when some sort of machinery fell on third floor directly above them. It sounded like an explosion. Ever since then Squiggles has been very scared of the hallway,” McGinn said.

There are currently no other therapy dogs in the building, but last year, Special Ed teacher Deb Keefe had a young, energetic therapy dog named Kirby, but she retired and he went with her. Even though they were different breeds, they were both white so people would always get them mixed up!

“I would never want to be without Squiggles at Lincoln High,” McGinn said.

“I think therapy dogs are really nice and it’s good to have one because they really help,” junior Daniel Holba said.

“I would like to bring my little dog Spinelli to be a therapy dog someday,” McGinn said, “He’d be on everybody’s lap, and probably even their desks, licking their faces.”



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