There’s one name that brings smiles to just about every face at Mount Elden Middle School: Lucy.
During the school day she can be found cruising the halls, checking in with friends at the lunchroom, playing ball at recess and comforting friends in the nurse’s office with Assistant Principal Donna Natseway. She gets paid in hugs, scritches and dog kibble.
Lucy is Mount Elden’s in-house therapy dog.
“Everyone just loves her,” Nasteway said. “The kids, the teachers, the staff and the parents. She loves coming to school each day.”
Lucy is a 3-year-old labradoodle, a mix between a Labrador retriever and poodle. The dogs were originally bred to be hypoallergenic guide dogs. According to petmed.com, they make great family pets, especially families with allergies, and shed less than most dogs.
With her big brown eyes and curly white and gold fur, Lucy’s a favorite at the school wherever she goes. Her sweet, quiet demeanor and soft fur just beg adults and students to bury their fingers in her coat and stroke her head.
“I sometimes have teachers come in during their prep time and ask if they can have ‘Lucy time.’ They’ll take her back to their classroom for a while and then return with a big smile,” Nasteway said. “I have a lot of people tell me that she’s the best part of their day. She immediately diffuses any negative feelings for both adults and students.”
MORE LAID BACK
Since Lucy stepped foot inside Mount Elden three years ago, the entire vibe of the school has changed, Nasteway said. Everyone -- teachers, staff, students and parents -- are more relaxed and the atmosphere in the school is more laid back.
Lucy also greets everyone who comes in the front door at the beginning of the school day with Nasteway and walks the halls between classes. She also makes trips to classrooms during lessons, wandering up and down the aisles of desks getting petting, rubbing and scratches from all sides.
“I think having her is kind of interesting, kind of cool,” said seventh grader Alaina Baca, who has several pets of her own at home. “It’s cool that she doesn’t shed. This is the first school that I’ve been to that has a dog.”
One of Lucy’s favorite places to visit is the school nurse’s office, where she likes to lean against students who might have a scraped knee or who are just not feeling well.
“She always knows when someone is upset,” Nasteway said.
Lucy will immediately start moving toward someone who is upset, including parents. Nasteway always asks students and adults if it’s OK that Lucy visits with them. Some people don’t like dogs or have had bad experiences with dogs or they may just be busy at the moment, Nasteway said. Interacting will Lucy is always voluntary. Lucy is also always on a leash and has an adult nearby wherever she goes. She’s not allowed to wander the school alone.
TRAINED IN THERAPY
Lucy actually belongs to Nasteway, who purposely got her to be a therapy dog for the school. She and Lucy went through basic obedience training and therapy dog training. She’s been a registered therapy dog for two years.
In order to become registered, Lucy and Nasteway had to be evaluated by Pet Partners, an organization created by two doctors and four veterinarians in 1970 to train volunteers and their pets how to become therapy teams. The organization registers 10 different species of therapy pets, including dogs, cats, horses, rabbits, guinea pigs, llamas, alpacas, birds, pigs and rats.
Lucy had to show that she could sit, lie down and stay on command. She also had to stay in place until she was called. Lucy also had to be comfortable with wheelchairs and walkers, loud noises, crowds and surprise guests dressed in weird clothing. Lucy and Nasteway also had to go through a walking pattern where an evaluator would ask them to randomly stop, lie down or sit and stay.
Once registered with the group, the animals and their handlers are able to work in schools, hospitals, nursing homes and a variety of other volunteer programs, such Northern Arizona University’s stress-free zones during exams. Nasteway is hoping to expand the number of places that she and Lucy volunteer in the near future, such as the reading program at the Flagstaff Library, once the two of them can find the time.