By: Ms. Sandra DeGroat/Psychiatric Nurse Practitioner OMHS & Kimberly Wada/ Instructional Paraprofessional
Alaska, a 5 year old mixed breed (German Sheppard/Husky), is a therapy dog who is trained in Animal-Assisted Therapy and certified by Bright and Beautiful Therapy Dogs. Ms. Sandra is Alaska’s handler and is a Psychiatric Nurse Practitioner in the outpatient department at Ocean Mental Health Services. Alaska has been volunteering and providing therapy to Ms. Sandra’s mental health patients two days weekly and the patient’s enjoy their appointments with added benefit of pet therapy when Alaska is there. Ms. Sandra reports that Alaska was initially scheduled only 1 day a week but her so many people want to be scheduled to see Alaska that another day had to be added! Plus Alaska has been visiting the residents of Homestead every first Tuesday of the month!
While on her lunch time walks around the building with Ms. Sandra, Alaska was able to meet the students and staff of Ocean Academy and was invited to spend some time volunteering with the students. Monday November 13th was her first day and boy was she a hit! She was able to visit all the students and staff in the classrooms and hallways and was thrilled to receive the adoration of the students (and staff)!! She was also the recipient of belly rubs which are her favorite!!
Alaska is going to be spending one Monday a month at Ocean Academy to become more familiarized with the school and all who are in it. Starting within the next year or so, Alaska will be visiting Ocean Academy more often. Ms. Sandra is going to be completing her doctor of nursing practice (DNP) and is going to be working on her DNP Project with Alaska at Ocean Academy.
The students in the Elementary Room really enjoyed Alaska’s visit. One student said that he was afraid of dogs. When Alaska came in, he said that he planned to stay at his desk because she was too big. However, after a couple of minutes of watching the other students interacting positively with Alaska, he walked over to pet Alaska, saying that he “wanted to see what it would be like.” This student spent several minutes petting Alaska and rubbing her belly. Another student, Piper, especially enjoyed Alaska’s visit. Piper assisted Sandra in walking Alaska from classroom to classroom to visit with students and staff members. When the students were asked how they felt about having a therapy dog visit the school, Joey said that Alaska made him feel “happy,” and Josh said, “She’s cute.” Aaron said that Alaska’s visit made him feel “good,” and he added, “It felt exciting!” Damien commented that Alaska “should be here more often!” All of the staff and students in the elementary room agreed that Alaska and Sandra should visit OA more often. We can’t wait to see them again!