KF school district enlists Augie the therapy dog
The Kettle Falls School District recently incorporated Kathleen Spaulding and her therapy dog Augie.
The pair volunteers one hour at the Kettle Falls preschool/elementary school, middle school and high school every Tuesday through Friday.
New to the area since last December, Augie and Spaulding have spent the last month experimenting to discover what works most effectively for each school.
At the elementary school, children call out “Augie” when they see the familiar golden retriever, paying him complements and showering him in affection.
Essentially, that's his job.
“I bring him around so he can be their dog for just a little bit each day,” said Spaulding. “He gets a little bit of a big head though, because he's so beautiful.”
Therapy dogs (or comfort dogs) are used in situations where an animal assist is beneficial. These dogs offer comfort and a sense of security, as well as companionship and amusement that can bring out a smile.
In a school setting, there are numerous areas a therapy dog can contribute, according to Spaulding.
Therapy dogs can be useful in reading programs, speech therapy classes, ESL, math classes, inside counselor's offices and life skills. Basically anywhere that stress relief is needed, for both students and staff alike.
Augie is originally from Hayden, Idaho. Augie has been with Spaulding since he was three-months-old. Now he's three-and-a-half.
Spaulding said the goal was always for Augie to become a therapy dog.
Spaulding often volunteered with the United Service Organizations (USO) at Fort Leonard Wood, Missouri. The USO is a non-profit organization that provides morale and recreational services to U.S. Military personnel and their families. It was while volunteering that she saw firsthand how a therapy dog can help someone's mental health.
“To see a solider lose it and then they bring a dog over and he's back on Earth in 10 minutes, it was really cool,” Spaulding said. “I thought, 'I have to do that.' ”
Augie began his obedience training at six months and has been in training since. Spaulding noted that ongoing training reaffirms that she's the one in charge.
To be a therapy dog, Augie had to pass his American Kennel Club's Canine Good Citizen obedience testing.
Spaulding and Augie registered as a team with Alliance of Therapy Dogs, Inc. in 2015.
Since becoming a certified therapy dog, Augie has trained with over 900 soldiers and their families as part of the USO. He also has experience with soldiers in the Warrior Transition Unit.
During the past two school years, Augie has worked a regular schedule with K-2 special needs students, alternative senior high students and middle and high school boarding school students.
Augie has a Facebook account under Augie Therapy Dog ( @AugieTD ) that anyone is invited to follow. Many of his current followers are former students from the previous school they worked at.
In the Kettle Falls schools, Spaulding said she and Augie have yet to establish a normal routine because of experimentation and some rare snow days and late starts for the district.
Spaulding said that so far, Augie fits in well at the middle school where he'll spend a portion of his time roaming the halls for a classroom to invite him inside.
Not all students are interested in visiting with Augie, but for the ones that are, petting him usually puts a smile on their faces.
“The whole purpose is to relieve stress,” noted Spaulding.