Therapy pup brings smiles to students in county schools

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(May 10, 2019) Gordon, a 10-year-old Italian greyhound, is running in a different direction these days. As a therapy dog in county schools, Gordon’s job is to be a calming influence on everyone around him.

“Gordon has become part of the staff. The teachers love him,” said Gordon’s owner, Jill Dillon, a school psychologist at Pocomoke area schools. She rescued him two years ago, and he has since been certified countywide through Pets on Wheels.

Gordon’s new assignment began this past September, when Dillon started bringing him to Pocomoke elementary, middle and high schools.

“He’s just, he’s so calming, so a lot of what I do as a school psychologist is a lot of testing, and a lot of meetings, and it gets kind of mundane, and I really want to be proactive with kids mental health.”

However, Gordon isn’t the only therapy dog in the Worcester County Public Schools district.

Carrie Sterrs, coordinator of public relations and special programs, confirmed that Berlin Intermediate School also receives a canine visitor whose mission is similar to Gordon’s.

Dillon said therapy dogs provide numerous benefits in schools, including lowering students’ (and teachers’) blood pressure, stress and anxiety.

“… Just having something comforting there I think really helps them as well, and I’ve just seen a lot of kids blossom just from having him,” Dillon said.

Dillon also saw children gain confidence by “read[ing] to the dogs because they don’t feel like they’re being judged.”

She added that students having behavior challenges now ask for him to calm themselves or as a reward, she said.

For the sixth graders who recently took the Maryland Comprehensive Assessment Program state testing, some dog down time reduced the tension.

“They were all just like, ‘we need a Gordon break,’ and it just helps them decompress from their day,” Dillon said.

Teachers, too, find some relief from the day with a visit from Gordon, she said.

As for liability concerns, Dillon said Pets on Wheel insures the certified volunteer.

“Gordon has a health certificate and is up to date on all vaccinations,” Dillon said.

While Dillon acknowledged some students could have allergies or fears associated with dogs, Gordon has won over some of them.

“We’ve had a couple that were afraid at the elementary school, and now they’re not,” Dillon said.