When Gulf Harbour School teacher Karen Holleron first brought her dog George to school, a year ago, she says she “snuck him in” so he could spend the day at her side.
She adopted George, a boxer, when he was nearly three years old from a family who could no longer care for him.
Gulf Harbour School principal Mel Crosbie says the staff all fell in love with George and wanted to make his presence at the school official.
To ensure this was safe for everyone, including students, George was assessed by the SPCA outreach therapy programme, which checked his behaviour and training.
He passed with flying colours.
“He is a naturally calm dog, who doesn’t react to anything much,” Karen says. “I think such a placid nature is unusual in a boxer.”
“The only thing he reacts to is singing,” Mel says. “He likes to ‘sing’ along with the national anthem at assembly!”
Karen says George seems very perceptive as to whether people want to play with him, or just sit quietly. This has made him very popular and also serves a therapeutic purpose.
Mel says some parents initially said their children were afraid of dogs, but that has been completely turned around thanks to George.
“No one is scared of him and we’ve had no complaints from parents at all. Children are allowed to take him for a walk as a reward and are even happy to pick up his poo!”
Not only that, but Mel says George’s presence calms children with behavioural issues such as ADHD and the dog also sits in on reading sessions with students who have special needs.
Karen says having a school dog seems to be rare in New Zealand, and led to a TV interview. She took George into Whangaparaoa School to see a teacher there, Nicola Winter, and as a result Whangaparaoa is getting its own school dog in the New Year.
Nicola says the timing was ideal, as her family was hoping to get a dog and she wanted to bring it to school rather than leave it at home during the day. The family found Kora – believed to be a beagle, whippet and collie cross – through the animal charity Saving Hope Foundation. Kora had been fostered on a farm and was used to animals and children being around.
Eight-month-old Kora will be taken to puppy preschool and also a Canine Good Citizen programme, designed to identify and reward dogs that have the training and demeanor to be reliable family and community members.
She will join Karen’s Year 5/6 class in the New Year, and will always be with an adult and on a leash.
Karen says she has had nothing but positive reactions from parents about the plan.
Whangaparaoa School principal Kevin Cronin says the school sees many benefits for the children.
“Having a dog at school can have a positive impact on the social, learning, emotional and behavioural needs of students. Children will be able to chat with Kora when they are feeling down, cuddle up and practice their reading on her and learn about animal care and safety with her help,” he says. “She will be kept away from children when they are eating and will be toileted away from the children’s play areas. We will be educating the children on how to respond when Kora is near them and also about hygiene requirements such as hand washing after touching her. The safety and well-being of both the children and Kora will be paramount and we look forward to this being a positive and rewarding experience for all.”