Mirella Stovell is Maggie’s handler and both Mirella and Maggie have successfully completed the Foundation Animal-Assisted Interventions and Therapy –Dog Certification Course. This is a whole school program that we are very excited to be introducing for our students. The goal of Animal-Assisted Therapy (AAT) is to help improve a student’s social, emotional, or cognitive functioning. The research supports the physiological, psychological, and social benefits of interactions with animals and the therapeutic potential of animal-assisted programs in a wide range of settings including schools (Walsh, 2009).
As animals are non-judgmental and provide an unconditional love, they can assist in increasing the engagement and sense of connection children can experience at school. Research shows AAT can assist to reduce anxiety, increase relaxation, social interaction, communication and engagement. The reason for this is that animals, in particular dogs, unlike people, communicate through body language alone and not a unique and often confusing mix of verbal, subtle facial and body cues, and underlying social rules.
Another benefit of AAT, especially for those students who may be apprehensive or nervous around animals, is to develop resiliency and confidence in a safe and supportive environment. The aim is for students to then be able to transfer this learning to other situations.
We have undertaken much research at MPPS about Maggie’s Beaglier breed. Beagliers are a small and docile dog which, makes a Beaglier an excellent choice as a therapy dog and also as a first dog for families who have children, no matter their age, and they are also tolerable of other dogs. The Beaglier’s fur tends to be short in length and may be wavy and silky-smooth, or it may have the course qualities of the Beagle which means Maggie will not overly shed hair.
Maggie’s introduction to the students and the wider MPPS community will be a gradual process. Maggie will begin her work at MPPS in the Yan Yean LC and at the early stages will always be in the presence of Mirella.
Our AAT program involves interacting with and handling Maggie and as such the following practices will be in place and implemented