A dog goes to school...

and the students say “Hooray!”

Interim School Supt. Claire Martin is a big hit at Cedar Grove-Belgium Elementary School thanks to her lovable goldendoodle Hattie
Ozaukee Press staff

Cedar Grove-Belgium School Supt. Claire Martin was walking down a hallway in the elementary school when she met a student who was crying and heading to a quiet room with a teacher.

Martin had her 2-year-old goldendoodle Hattie with her. Hattie stopped and met the student.

After a few moments, the child began to pet Hattie and calmed down. The tears subsided. The quiet room was not needed; the teacher returned the student to the classroom

It turns out the school district got an unexpected package deal when it hired Martin as interim superintendent for one year as it chooses its new leader.

Martin brings Hattie, who is registered through Therapy Dogs International, to school once or twice per week to listen as students read to her.

Hattie is one of Martin’s retirement hobbies, combining her passions for education and dogs.

“She has become more popular than I am,” Martin said. “It’s fun and it’s a great way as a superintendent to connect with kids.”

The idea of bringing Hattie to school came out of a conversation between Martin and district library media specialist Grace King. They made sure that parents and staff were OK with it.

Hattie, King said, serves as a greeter for children new to the elementary school.

“Let’s give them a positive experience,” King said. “They adore her.”

One Spanish-speaking student picked out a book about a dog in Spanish to read to Hattie.

Reading to dogs helps students’ fluency and confidence, King said.

“A dog,” she said, “doesn’t correct you.”

Hattie often visits Kris Sass’ first-graders. Sass was apprehensive at first but was quickly convinced.

“I thought that this would be a huge distraction to kids, but it’s not because Hattie is so calm,” she said.

“The only thing she did is she ate a snack wrapper. Her nose still works.”

Students read with Hattie as long as 45 minutes, she said, even though first-graders usually “don’t do 45 minutes of anything.”

Hattie isn’t an overly friendly goldendoodle that gets excited to see people. She is calm and quiet, doesn’t jump and tolerates several children petting her at one time, as she just looks around with her big brown eyes.

First-graders made a book of reasons why they love Hattie.

“Hattie makes me feel comfortable Hattie makes me feel calm. Hattie is gentle,” Liam Kerchel wrote.

Connor Langer wrote, “Hattie makes me feel comfortable when I am reading. Hattie makes me feel special.”

Sass said Hattie serves as a motivator.

“She’s one of the most valuable assets to our school. We should really pay her,” she said with a laugh.

Another elementary school class bought Hattie a box of mini-Milk Bones for Christmas, along with a bandana that reads “Hairy Pawter” in honor of students reading “Harry Potter and the Sorcerer’s Stone.”

Hattie will devour the treats later, Martin said. Therapy dogs aren’t supposed to eat while working since drugs and other dangerous items can be found in hospitals and nursing homes where they also work.

It’s not just elementary school students who light up around Hattie. She starts her day visiting various tables of high school students in the commons before the first class.

A sign outside Martin’s office designates when Hattie is in.

Martin plans to bring Hattie to help calm students during exams this week.

She doesn’t take Hattie to the middle school due to a student’s allergy, but middle-schoolers have walked down the hall to see Hattie in the elementary school.

Martin, who lives in Minoqua with her husband and two other goldendoodles, ages 13 and 11, brought Hattie to the autistic room at Lakeland High School last year. Students miss her this year while Martin temporarily stays in Sheboygan.

Hattie has also visited the intensive care unit of a hospital and nursing homes, where residents “tell you stories of when they had dogs,” Martin said.

She often takes Hattie into stores — she always asks first — and people stop and ask how they can train their dog to act so calm.

Martin said it’s the demeanor of the dog, not the trainer. The Therapy Dogs International website says “a therapy dog is born, not made” and a dog’s “inherent temperament” cannot be changed.

Martin had the first pick of the litter when she chose Hattie, intending to train her to be a therapy dog. Research, she said, told her not to choose the puppy that got in her face but one that walked up to her and had the confidence to walk away, although Martin said it’s a bit of a guessing game in selecting the right puppy.

Hattie went through three levels of obedience training and then therapy dog training. Martin and her husband are both certified with Hattie.

“It’s important for people to know that not just anybody can bring their dog (to school),” she said.

Martin said Hattie usually works for an hour or two before she returns to her office. A certain look from the 60-pound dog tells her she has had enough.

“She gets tired. I have to be sure I don’t overextend her,” Martin said.

She said therapy dogs are becoming so popular that the Wisconsin Association of School Boards recently developed a policy for them.

Outside of work, Martin said, Hattie is a normal dog. As she was leaving the elementary school last week, she attempted to drink out of the toilet in the office and was promptly given a bowl of water that she drank up.

For more information on Therapy Dogs International, visit www.tdi-dog.org.




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Wisconsin’s largest paid circulation community weekly newspaper. Serving Port Washington, Saukville, Grafton, Fredonia, Belgium, as well as Ozaukee County government. Locally owned and printed in Port Washington, Wisconsin.

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