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Fletcher Community Welcomes Therapy Dog To School

Fletcher Elementary School students have recently welcomed Dwight, a five year old goldendoodle, to school as a therapy dog with owner Michelle Trussalo, the school’s assistant principal.

Michelle Trussalo knew early on that her goldendoodle, Dwight, was capable of bringing joy to anyone who encountered him.

“Since I adopted Dwight, he’s always had such a gentle and loving temperament,” said Trussalo, assistant principal at Fletcher Elementary School. “I always tried to expose him to different environments to familiarize him in a variety of settings and interacted with adults and other dogs at a young age when going to dog daycare.”

But now, at five years old, Dwight has taken “bringing joy” to an entirely new — and “paw-some” — level.

In mid-January, Dwight was approved by the Jamestown Public Schools Board of Education to serve Fletcher Elementary School as a therapy dog — a resource that Principal Amanda Sischo had always wanted to provide to the building’s students.

“I always considered training for him to become a therapy dog, but it was really about finding the right time for both him and myself,” Trussalo said. “When I was hired as the assistant principal for Fletcher last spring, Mrs. Sischo had mentioned how she would like to have a therapy dog at Fletcher. I think this was the green light of support I was looking for.”

Fletcher Elementary School students have recently welcomed Dwight, a five year old goldendoodle, to school as a therapy dog with owner Michelle Trussalo, the school’s assistant principal.

Utilizing the help of Sue Mead, a school psychologist at Jamestown High School who brings her therapy dog, Bruce, to school each day, Trussalo began the training process with Dwight this past summer.

“Sue was a great resource in sharing her journey with Bruce and providing me with information on how to move forward,” Trussalo said. “The prerequisite for the Therapy Dog training was the Canine Good Citizen training through the American Kennel Association. We were able to enroll in a week-long class that was hosted at Chautauqua Institution. After Dwight passed that, we connected with Carly Davis at CHQDogs for the therapy dog training. After meeting once a week for a month, Dwight was able to take his test and become certified through Therapy Dogs United.”

There is research to support that therapy dogs in the school environment have a positive impact on addressing students and staff needs, Trussalo said.

“The role of Dwight at Fletcher is to provide support to everyone in multiple ways, including helping students and staff to deal with stress, process mental health concerns, boost academic engagement, as well as promote attendance,” she said. “Dwight serves as an accessible resource to comfort, provide opportunities for tasks of responsibility, and incentives through multiple means such as individual, small group, or whole group learning.”

To help students adjust to having a dog in school, volunteers from the Chautauqua County Humane Society alongside Carly Davis from CHQDogs have been visiting classrooms to provide canine safety tips to students and staff.

“We felt this was a great opportunity to provide information in a way that gives students and staff a way to practice in a safe environment to be better prepared with a deeper understanding of dog ‘language,'” Trussalo said. “The Humane Society also provided Fletcher with a book about dog language that we will include in our library for our students.”

To help thank the Humane Society for their work in educating Fletcher students, the school will be holding a Donation Drive for the society during the month of February. Families and community members are encouraged to donate: towels and blankets, canned chicken, canned pureed pumpkin, squeezable treats for cats, applesauce, cheese whiz, tuna, cat or dog treats, any kind of dry or soft cat or dog food, cat litter (clay, non-clumping), dog toys (washable), cat toys, cardboard cat scratchers, dog chews, do collars (flat buckle and martingale), front clip harnesses, kongs, cloth leashes and grooming brushes.

Donations can be dropped off in the Main Office at Fletcher School throughout the month of February.

Otherwise, Fletcher’s newest staff member remains to be a hit among students and staff.

“The amount of support, positivity, and excitement from staff and students is extremely special and I’m grateful we were given this opportunity,” Trussalo said. “It is amazing to watch the students interact with Dwight and see their faces light up. They are so gentle and loving towards him.”

She added, “One teacher shared with me how calming it is to just stop and pet him when they see him. That was the goal all along. Dwight is a special dog and I am fortunate to share him with so many others.”

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