Augie is an 18-month-old Cockapoo who enjoys Gold Yak Dog Chews and any squeak toy. What makes him different than most dogs on the SouthCoast is that he is currently in training to become a therapy dog at Dartmouth High School. Augie was adopted in the spring of 2020 by Assistant Principal Richard Gill. Augie originally resided in Connecticut, but his first owners were unable to keep him due to changing family dynamics and Augie was in need of a home. Gill sensed Augie’s ability to become a therapy dog based on his loving and calm personality.

The idea to integrate a therapy dog into Dartmouth High School initially began as a conversation between Assistant Principal Gill and Principal Thibault when they worked together at a previous school. “At the time, acquiring a therapy dog was cost-prohibitive and as a result, we weren't able to implement it,” said Principal Thibault. “More recently at Dartmouth High School, the conversation resumed after a visit I made to Burlington High School where I had the opportunity to observe a therapy dog in action. The dramatic impact that it has on the culture of a high school is hard to describe in words. Teenagers and faculty members just love having a dog present and there is ample research around the simple act of petting a dog and how it lowers blood pressure and reduces anxiety.”

Dartmouth Public Schools via Facebook
Dartmouth Public Schools via Facebook

Thibault addressed how the COVID-19 pandemic increased stress and anxiety, especially in students. “Being a teenager today, we know there is a profound need to do everything we can to reduce stress and anxiety as much as possible.”

Augie is on a mission to help students and faculty simply by being there for them. “Augie's presence lowers the temperature. Interacting with a dog, especially one with Augie's disposition, has such a calming effect on students and staff alike.”

Although, it’s not just the act of petting the dog that will help the students work through their stress. It starts by acknowledging that it is there in the first place.

“The need to address stress, anxiety, and other social-emotional issues, has been heightened as a result of the pandemic, and introducing Augie to Dartmouth High School is just one more approach to supporting our students' social-emotional wellness. We applaud Mr. Gill as well as our School Social Workers Cathy Thomas, Kristianna Fontes-Callahan, and Stephanie Nocon who have been working tirelessly, especially this year, to support our students."

Of course, with any new job, there is a bit of training involved. Augie’s is no exception.

“Training for Augie began last summer when Mr. Gill, at his own expense, began private training lessons for Augie through Harmonious Hounds. Training sessions focused on preparing Augie for step one of earning his Therapy Dog Novice title through the American Kennel Club bypassing the AKC Good Canine Citizen course. The next step in the training involves Augie completing a minimum of 10 interactive visits at Dartmouth High School which have been on-going while students have been remote. This has allowed Augie to get to know the school, interact with the faculty--who absolutely love him, in preparation for greeting and interacting with students when they return next week.”

Augie being embraced by English Teacher, Jesse Grieve, during one of Augie's visits to DHS. Photo Contributed by Principal Ross Thibault
Augie being embraced by English Teacher, Jesse Grieve, during one of Augie's visits to DHS.
Photo Contributed by Principal Ross Thibault

When asked if every day feels like “Bring Your Dog to Work Day” with Augie around, Principal Thibault was sure to clarify this new role. “We are very appreciative of Mr. Gill sharing his dog with us, but Mr. Gill is the first to remind folks that when Augie is at Dartmouth High School, he isn't Mr. Gill's dog, he is serving as the DHS Therapy Dog. In fact, the days that Augie has visited, and the days that he will be visiting, he will primarily be working alongside School Social Worker Cathy Thomas and interacting with our students."

Best of luck to Augie and everyone at Dartmouth High School. This is a fantastic program, and one we hope continues long after this pandemic is behind us.

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