A newcomer at Parkes East Public School has not only gained instant popularity, but has also done wonders for the general level of well being of students, staff and parents. Nixon, a fully trained guide dog, joined the school about five weeks ago in the role of therapy dog to help support students.
“We can already see the impact he is having,” said Principal Michael Ostler, who has a special rug in his office where Nixon can take a break when he is tired.
“He is very attentive and acts as a circuit breaker for students with anxiety. They come and give him a cuddle or stroke him, and it has a calming effect.”
Michael said the two-year old white Labrador did get weary after doing the rounds in the classrooms. In the beginning the kids got very excited when they saw him, but they’ve had some training about how to respond to Nixon and they are getting used to having him around.
Michael said he had even noticed the benefits for himself spending time with Nixon. “He has absolutely improved my well being too.”
The idea of getting a therapy dog for the school came from assistant principal Claire Mackenzie. “I’m an animal lover and after doing some research found out about the benefits of having a therapy dog to further support kids with special needs in addition to what we’re already doing.
“Nixon benefits all students by providing companionship and support that is non-judgemental. The overall well being in the school has already improved so much and when he enters a classroom there are smiles and happiness everywhere. The students feel calm when he’s around – the response has been unbelievable, and the kids are all very positive.”
It was quite a lengthy process, with the disruption of the COVID pandemic, to get a therapy dog, but Claire said when Nixon arrived at school it was just the best feeling. She said the response from parents had also been very positive. “It’s truly the best idea ever! My daughter is so happy about it, well done Parkes East,” wrote one parent on the school’s Facebook page.
Claire was disappointed she could not provide a home for Nixon outside school hours, but another teacher has offered to take on the role. Nixon is now the property of the school, and the students are planning to do some fundraising in support of him.
Parkes East is the first school in Parkes to get a therapy dog, while Trundle Central School has had one for a while called Nugget, who is Nixon’s brother. The only other school in the region to have a therapy dog is Bathurst West Public School, according to Michael.
Trained dogs are in high demand from Guide Dogs NSW, and Michael said they felt very fortunate to have been able to get one.
By Maggi Barnard