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Wright School Therapy Dogs Provide Comfort

Pictured Above: Nikolaus with Wright School Liaison Teacher/Counselor Brian Shaffer, April 16, 2019. Photo Credit: Wright School

July 30, 2019 -- DHHS' Division of State Operated Health Care Facilities, including hospitals, schools and other treatment centers, are always looking for ways to innovate and bring comfort to those they serve and their staff. Research, by notable health experts like Florence Nightingale, Dr. Sigmund Freud, and Dr. Boris Levinson, as far back as the 1800s, shows that animals can help us psychologically and emotionally. Their role can assist in the healing process for humans who struggle with various types of physical, emotional and mental ailments. 

Animal-assisted therapy helps at Wright School too. Wright School is a residential state operated behavioral health treatment program and school for children, ages 6 to 12. The children served in this unique setting have severe emotional and behavioral disorders. The treatment program is based on the therapeutic Re-Education model, which provides treatment within the context of each child’s ecology – family, extended family, schools and communities. The work at Wright School is challenging and can be stressful for the adults working in the facility, so they have incorporated animal-assisted therapy, a long-supported approach to reduce anxiety and stress, into their environment. 

Wright School Therapy Dogs

To create a more relaxing environment, Wright School has two therapy dogs to support the students and staff. Andy and his handler, Claire Reece-Gore visit with a group of students every week. Nikolaus, a six-year-old Norwegian Elkhound and handler Lori Lumpkin, who is also the Wright School Chief Operating Officer, visit with Wright School staff on in-service days and work days. While both dogs perform different functions, they each support students and staff. 

Many students have experienced significant trauma prior to admission, which makes their emotional and behavioral responses more complex, challenging and emotionally taxing for the teachers and counselors at the school. ‘Paws for Wellness’ allows staff to spend time snuggling, petting and releasing their stress to a non-judgmental creature who listens and cares unconditionally. 

Nikolaus is well-suited for his job. The 60-pound lap dog loves to be petted. He also has the most soulful and expressive brown eyes that connect with humans. 

His eyes speak volumes, as if to say, “You are special. You are loved. And you are the most important person in my world right now.” 

Nikolaus and Lumpkin and Andy and Reece-Gore have gone through extensive training to become therapy teams. Both teams have been screened, tested and evaluated by their certified organization. One of the largest national organizations is Pet Partners, Inc. They must be re-certified every two years. Liability insurance is also provided for each team by the certifying organization. 
 
At the end of a faculty in-service training day focused on Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder, secondary traumatic stress, compassion fatigue and burnout, Nikolaus was available as a “healing” presence to staff. This activity fits in nicely with the North Carolina Office of Human Resources’ Wellness Initiative for employees.