Rochester, N.Y. - The newest full-time employee at School 19 was hired to help students with reading, teach them the benefit of exercise, and encourage those who have trouble getting through the school day.
He does it all on a pay of dog treats and pats on the head.
“He really thrives on the attention of the students,” said Dr. Angela Mullaly, school psychologist and handler for Blaze. “We can’t walk down the hall without being stopped a million times.”
In Miss Vanessa’s pre-k class Thursday, students were waiting to meet Blaze, passing the time with a Valentine’s Day song. “Do you know my Valentine, my Valentine, my Valentine,” they sang. But all eyes were on the door as Blaze arrived.
“Hi Blaze” said Jazzy.
“He looks so pretty,” said Naziyah.
Blaze is named after the firefighters in Worcester, MA who paid for his training. He is a yellow lab, and full time staff member who is quick to demonstrate his bag of tricks. He can carry his own leash, high five, and even “take a bow.”
“He’s funny and he’s very soft,” says Jazzy who had a hard time waiting to pet the dog.
“They light up, you can tell it’s one of the highlights of their day,” says Dr. Mullaly. It’s really making a difference on how students feel about being in school.”
Blaze will visit all classrooms. He will act an as audience to students who need to practice their reading. “Some students have a difficult time reading to adults because adults know if they are struggling with a word. Blaze just wants to hear your voice and sit next to you. It decreases anxiety,” said Dr. Mullaly.
Yet his greatest talents are more subtle.
Teacher: “Raise your hand if you have an idea of what a therapy dog might be?”
Student: “He will love you.”
Teacher: “Yes, he will love you.”
Blaze is specially trained to work with children prone to outbursts of emotion or anger. If someone is pounding on a desk or stamping their feet or throwing things, most dogs will sense the danger and back away. Blaze does the opposite.
“He understands that he is safe as long as he is with me so he will walk right up to (the students) and put his head up and that will break the moment and help diffuse the situation because the child will want to pet him,” says Dr. Mullaly.
In just the first week on the job, Blaze has found his calling. He carries the proof in a zippered pocket on his “Therapy Dog” backpack. It is a letter from a 5th grader prone to just those kinds of emotional outbursts.
“Dear Blaze, you are the best therapy dog in the world, thank you for coming to School 19,” the note said. Without naming the student, the school counselor indicates he is in a special needs class of eight- kept small to deal with children who have difficulty managing their anger or trusting people. Every day the student spends his breakfast time with Blaze.
“The change is remarkable,” said Dr. Mullaly. “I think that (Blaze) is already making a difference.”