Meet Addie, Danville High School’s new therapy dog

Published 7:04 pm Tuesday, February 26, 2019

A special dog is now an official Danville High School staff member.

Addie, a Bouvvier Aussie Poodle mix is an official staff member at Danville High School. She was introduced to the school Tuesday morning as the school’s first therapy dog. Photo by Robin Hart

Addie is a therapy dog that was introduced to students and staff at DHS Tuesday morning. Wearing a white T-shirt with her named printed on the back, Addie pranced onto the stage and showed off her good manners as her trainer, Liz Norris gave verbal and visual commands for her to obey.

Gravely Hall was filled with lively voices laughing and chatting about school, friends and of course Addie, with lots of “oohs and aahs,”  which didn’t distract Addie at all.

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DHS principal Haley Ralston said having Addie at school every day will help the mental wellbeing of many of the students.

“Several of our kids suffer from anxiety and depression,” Ralston said, which are issues that are “coming more to the forefront of problems we have to deal with.”

“I hope this is one more way we can help our students,” Ralston said.

Before bringing Addie onto the stage, Ralston said therapy dogs are loving and can bring comfort to those who need it.

“A dog’s love is unconditional,” she said. “Addie is a great addition to our staff and students.”

A short video showed the audience the proper way to react to Addie when they see her in the halls accompanying Ralston, Assistant Principal Ernest Dunn or school Counselor Trish Jarnagin.

If Addie is wearing a vest, she is “working” and should not be acknowledged by passing students. However, if she’s not wearing a vest, students and staff can ask permission to pet Addie and then Addie will be permitted to respond.

Therapy dog trainer Liz Norris, left, shows Danville High School Principal Haley Ralston and school counselor Trish Jarnagin the hand signal for the command “wait.” Addie waits on her spot until the next command is given. Photo by Robin Hart

Teachers may request Addie visit their classrooms and individuals can ask to visit Addie in the school office, Ralston said.

As Norris was teaching Ralston and Jarnagin how to use Addie’s training to help students who are having an emotional episode, she sat on the floor with her legs stretched out, then had the dog lay down in her lap and over her legs, with Addie’s ear on her chest and tummy facing up. Norris said it was a type of deep pressure therapy that works when the student does “ear slides” or rubs Addie’s ears. Soon the student’s breathing and heart rate slows down to match Addie’s.

Sometimes students just need to have someone to talk to and Addie will be a great listening companion. She’s been taught to lay down next to a person who is stressed and lay her head on the person’s leg or arm. Norris said Addie’s facial expression seems to say “Empathy is just oozing off of me!”

Addie will be 1 year old in April. Her mom is a Bouvier des Flandres and her dad is an Australian shepherd-poodle mix. She’s been trained as a therapy dog since she was just a young puppy because her temperament was suitable. However, her sister’s wasn’t, Norris said.

Norris has been training therapy dogs for schools and hospitals, and service dogs for individuals with disabilities, since 1993, with Pawsibilities Unleashed in Frankfort.

Ralston said the Danville school board purchased the trained dog for DHS. She said if Addie’s presence in the school is successful, an anonymous donor has offered to pay $2,000 for a second dog to be at the school.

The middle and elementary schools may also one day get therapy dogs, Ralston said.

Ralston will be Addie’s primary handler. Addie’s bed is in Ralston’s office and she has one just like it in Ralston’s home, she said. Norris said Addie and Ralston will take some time to bond, once Norris is out of the picture. Norris told Ralston it will take about 48 hours for Addie to realize “You are my person!”