On February 15th, Notre Dame High School in Carleton Place held its open house to welcome students, parents, family, and neighbours for an evening of connection, information, and opportunities for students to display their love of learning. In the middle of a very busy and noisy entrance atrium an oasis of calm was found wrapped in the shiny black fur of Denzel, Notre Dame’s resident therapy dog.
Denzel or Denz as he’s popularly known among students and staff is a 20 month old purebred Labrador retriever owned by teacher Cathy Wyatt. She asked her breeder to select a pup that showed potential for just the right attitude to be able to become a therapy dog and had to wait through more than one litter before Denzel came along. She has been responsible for his training to date and hopes to have him linked with and receive further training from the national therapeutic dog association known as Therapeutic Paws of Canada. Then he can look forward to graduating to help elementary school and university students as well as hospital and health-care centre patients.
Denzel attends Notre Dame 2 partial days a week (Mondays and Fridays) to help students with anxiety, attendance issues, and stress. He started this job just last year. Wyatt noted that Mondays are particularly high stress days for certain students and Denzel’s calming nature and keen sense of observation fit right in with those situations. Unlike service dogs which are specifically trained for one human and who should never be addressed or petted without the owner’s permission, therapy dogs are encouraged to interact with everyone and good ones, like Denzel have a unique sense of who needs comfort the most. When students kneel down to greet him, his personality shines.
The teachers at Notre Dame have seen tension levels (sometimes caused by exam stress) in entire classrooms drop with Denzel’s presence. He’s even done well in half-school assemblies and at the open house had no problem settling in with a capacity audience of parents and students. Student Cherilyn Millar noted that “students love him and it’s great to see all the hands come out to pet him in the hallways”.
There are no other Catholic schools in the area to Principal Donna Koekkoek’s knowledge that have a resident therapy dog and she is fully supportive of this initiative and like everyone else at Notre Dame is amazed at the early results. As Wyatt puts it, “Denz can really get students to change gears when their day starts on a bad note.” When asked if she thought his learning capability exceeded some 2-legged students, she politely dodged the question, but without doubt Denz is a star pupil at Notre Dame.
This article was first published in the February 2018 issue of Hometown News. For more articles from our February 2018 issue, pick up a print copy at a local retailer (find a list of locations here) or read our digital version.