Bobcats incorporate therapy dogs into West Broward

by Gillian Stewart

MAN’S BEST FRIEND: Freshman Nicole Fraginals plays with Mr. Fleisher’s dog, Podrick. Podrick is being trained to become a therapy dog in order to assist students at Marjory Stoneman Douglas with their anxiety and PTSD. Photo by Gillian Stewart

   On Sept. 8, 2019, Office Manager and Confidential Secretary Cindy Fankhauser took the steps to license her canine Winter as a service and therapy dog. Since Winter’s certification, she has not only been an emotional comfort but a physical help to Fankhauser. Several of the dogs part of the Bobcat community are certified or began training to become a therapy dog. Like Fankhauser and Winter, several teachers are taking the next steps to legally certify their dogs as supportive companions for students and staff. 

   Therapy dogs, according to the American Kennel Club, are dogs who volunteer in schools, hospitals and nursing homes. The dogs provide emotional support and comfort to those dealing with personal struggles. West Broward is attributed with having very interactive programs with the pets in the Pembroke Pines community.

   “Winter’s main goal was to be a therapy dog first,” Fankhauser said. “A therapy dog can help with emotional support and be a friend. I can take her into places like nursing homes to calm people and she always knows when I am not feeling good. She was originally a therapy dog, but now she is a service dog as well. She is trained for both physical and emotional assistance whenever needed.”

   Therapy dogs must be at least one year old to start training. An observer conducts a variety of tests in order to see how the dogs handle certain situations. The tests include observing the dogs behavior towards different people and handling skills. 

   “We take him to training once a week. He actually goes to PetSmart where they have a trainer who has dealt with dogs,” said English and Journalism teacher David Fleischer. “We have to take him there to teach him the basics, and then we do intensive training at home. Once he finishes with the basics, then he has to go through a whole other certification with a private trainer.”

   People have invested in therapy dogs for personal assistance. Whether it be to aid with physical, emotional or mental struggles, these types of dogs allow people of any age to have help with the problems in their own lives. Problems can include anxiety, physical pain and PTSD. With this, dogs are trained to aid in a wide range of scenarios to provide the specific help people need.

   “Phoebe right now is for my personal interactions, she is my child,” said TV production teacher Jodi Tesser. “She is going through the steps in order to become a therapy dog. I want her to be able to help people in a positive light to comfort others.”

   Dog owners are beginning the process of making their pets therapy dogs for specific situations. In particular, Fleisher’s dog, Podrick, is being trained to hopefully be a comforting face for the students of Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School. The high school faced a tragedy in 2018, and sought opportunities to cope with the shooting that resulted in the deaths of 15 students and 3 staff members. With assistance from Podrick, there is hope that students will feel safer walking in the halls of the school.

   “We hope to send him to Stoneman in the future,” Fleischer said. “My wife works there which is convenient since she will be able to take him and work with him. We just want him to be a good, well-behaved dog and have a positive influence on people going through struggles.”

   Many people believe that having therapy dogs as a part of the classroom will help students. The use of dogs has helped with students’ focus and uplifted their spirits while in class.

     “Coal is more of a soothing companion to students,” said ESE Specialist teacher Nikol Seitner. “He provides mental therapy to children and even adults. Coal has been a therapy dog since last year and went through training for four months to become certified.” 

   Under the Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA),”businesses like restaurants, hotels, retail stores, taxi cabs and sports facilities are required to allow people with disabilities to bring their service animals onto business premises.” Service and emotional support dogs are allowed to travel airplanes as well. Under the Air Carrier Access Act (ACAA), they cannot be denied on air crafts and are allowed to accompany their handlers inside of cabinet.

   “Therapy dogs are for when you need emotional support, and she can go in and be your friend,” Fankhauser said. “Winter’s main goal was to start off as a therapy dog, which is first before anything else. Now, she is a service dog also, so I can take her on planes and in restaurants. Wherever I go, she goes with me.”

   Therapy dogs in Pembroke Pines have already been set up to provide aid and support for those around them. The faculty and staff of West Broward have provided an example for students and other faculty members in utilizing a multitude of resources to create a positive impact, even if that resource is a canine companion.

   “The calm and relaxed nature of these dogs make it really hard to not be at ease around them,” Fleischer said. “No matter how stressed or upset I’m feeling, whenever I see my dog, I’m overcome with happiness.”

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