A friendly, furry face greeted Bellevue Elementary School students when they returned to classes this past week.
Ace of Hearts, the school’s new therapy dog, joined the group for their first days of school. The yellow Labrador retriever completed the equivalent of canine college this past summer, acing all the tests required to become a school therapy dog, both Canine Good Citizen and Therapy Dog International certified.
Jill Miller, Bellevue Schools social worker, adopted Ace about a year ago as a puppy with the intent of training him for the job. Miller is also the counselor for students in third- through fifth-grade at Bellevue Elementary, conducting individual and group counseling and classroom guidance sessions.
“I knew I wanted to do this all along because I’ve read so much about the benefits of these programs,” Miller said.
Ace will assist Miller with emotional connection issues at the school and also as an incentive for academic achievement and good behavior, she said. He will spend most of his time in Miller’s office.
On Wednesday, Miller introduced Ace to Maggie Rickel’s preschoolers, reading them the book “May I Pet Your Dog?” to teach them about proper procedures when interacting with dogs. Each student then took a moment to pet Ace in Miller’s company. Before students could participate in the program, they were required to turn in a form documenting any dog-related fears and allergies, as another safety precaution.
After just a few minutes of interaction and a few paw-shakes, he was an overwhelming hit. “I had to let him sniff me before I pet him,” said a smiling Luke Gearhart, 4. “He was really soft.”
Brad McClung, of McClung’s Animal Hospital in Tiffin, has agreed to handle all of the therapy dog’s veterinary expenses to show his support for the district’s program.
Ace even has his own Facebook page, which is steadily growing as word spreads about his work. “Therapy dog programs are becoming very popular in hospitals and nursing homes, and we think it will work really well here too,” Miller said. “They help ease people’s emotions, keep them calm and can sometimes connect to kids in a way humans can’t. Ace has the perfect temperament to be a great therapy dog.”