ANCHORAGE, Alaska (AP) — Special needs students at a Palmer elementary school are getting assistance from a nontraditional source: a 3-year-old cream golden retriever.
Casper is a therapy dog assisting students at Swanson Elementary School, Anchorage television station KTVA reported.
“School is really hard for some of these kids and all of sudden they have something to look forward to,” said Kelly Sosa, founder of Central Coast Service Dogs in San Luis Obisbo, California.
Sosa trained Casper in California. He provides comfort to kids with autism and sensory issues, she said.
“He helps interrupt meltdowns. If a kid is getting overwhelmed, he’ll provide deep pressure therapy,” Sosa said.
Casper wears a service dog vest with a handle that allows children to hang on as they walk together down hallways.
“They’re getting more social interaction,” Sosa said. “It’s no longer them isolated in their class; it’s connecting them with the rest of the community in a way that’s so much more normalized. It’s huge for them.”
Carole Shay, director of Alaska Assistance Dogs, said the nonprofit organization has been bringing service animals into schools around Alaska for years. Casper will be Swanson’s first in-house dog. The animal goes home with a teacher every night.
Shay will check on other dogs Sosa places and help other schools raise money for therapy dogs. Sosa estimates that the cost of training a dog is several thousands of dollars.
“We’re a team and it’s just incredible the way this has taken off but it’s so needed in this day and age of stress and trauma,” Shay said.
Students earn time with Casper for good behavior such as doing their school work. It’s easy to see the effect the dog has on students, said Swanson principal Rourka Spatz.
“Watching him interact with the kids, it does, it gives you goose bumps,” Spatz said. “It makes you teary-eyed to know that he’s making an impact. And he’s only been here for a week.”