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Brunswick, ME: School service dog helps kids 'dysregulated emotionally'

Oct 24, 2021, Portland (ME) Press Herald: New support dog at Brunswick school aims to break down barriers, ease student stress

When Desi — the new support dog at Brunswick Junior High School — walked outside on Friday morning during recess, students of all grade levels rushed over to pet her…. Shelley Prophett, who has taught functional life skills for students with the highest needs of support at Brunswick Junior High School for six years, said that Desi has served as a comfortable, judgement-free figure for her students. “There has been a couple of times where we have had some students who have been really quite dysregulated emotionally, some screaming and yelling and maybe throwing stuff,” said Prophett. “Desi comes in, and it’s pretty instantaneous. Within the first three to five minutes kids are visibly calmer, you can see their bodies relax, they may ask to lay with her, or give her a hug. It’s almost like she instinctually knows which kids in the classroom are having a hard time.” According to Pawesome Advice, an online resource that collect expert advice and data for pet owners, emotional support animals have gained “incredible popularity” over the last decade, and there are now more than 65,000 of them in the U.S. Approximately 74% of pet owners reported improved mental health because of their animals, according to the same website. Overall, the dog has added a positive layer to the building, according to Brunswick Junior High School Principal Laurie Catanese, and having Desi aligns with the school’s focus on social and emotional learning. Procedures and protocols were developed earlier in the school year to help guide Desi’s interaction with students, Catanese added. “Students often in middle school are developing their skills around independence, they’re developing skills around homework completion, they’re developing skills around peer-to-peer conflicts,” Catanese said. “I think what Desi does is just bring a grounding force for a lot of students.”


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