The benefits of therapy dogs have been proven time and again. Their services help people of all ages, and they’re especially valuable in elementary schools.
Rex, an Arapahoe County Sheriff’s Office therapy dog, visits eight elementary schools in Littleton, Colorado. Students at one of these schools, Dr. Justina Ford Elementary, came up with the sweetest way to show how much the dog’s visits meant to them.
Rex’s visits to Ford Elementary are so important to the children. A fifth-grader made a mailbox for Rex, so the students who didn’t get to see him that day could write letters to him.
Over 50 letters were placed in Rex’s mailbox over the past year. According to Principal Teresa Burden:
“Kids wanted to know more than just ‘how can I pet him,’ but ‘how can I really connect with him?’”
The mailbox is perched atop a shelf in the school’s library, and the wall behind it is covered with letters and drawings for the 9-month-old black Lab.
School Resource Officer Deputy John Gray, Rex’s handler, told 9News the students like to get creative with their letters to Rex.
“Maybe if they didn’t see him today in class, they will put a letter in the mailbox. They can write and draw whatever they want.”
One of these adorable student-written letters to Rex reads:
“We love you. You help us so much.”
Rex Encourages Positivity And Empathy
The school rewards well-behaved students with extra time with the therapy dog. Ford Elementary’s behavioral model is designed to teach kids about positive behaviors. If the students demonstrate acts of kindness, they get rewarded.
Naturally, one of the most popular rewards for good behavior is lunch with Rex.
“When I see a kid interact with Rex, you know, they may say this is the best part of their day,” Gray said.
Principal Burden noted how it’s easier for children around this age to relate to animals than to adults.
“Kids just connect with animals in a different way than they connect with teachers or families, and it is just beautiful to see.”
Developing people have had a harder time learning emotions and communication skills during mask-wearing times. With this in mind, Gray believes Rex’s visits are even more valuable now.
“It is hard for students, because they can’t see that expression, right? They are losing that empathy, so this is a great tool to teach kids empathy.”
Gray hopes to expand the elementary school therapy dog program in Arapahoe County.