Service Dogs foster emotional well being and a love for literacy



In society today, mental health remains a primary focus for many educators. One way that Sevastopol focuses on lifting the spirits of students and staff is through therapy animals.

Melissa Marggraf, director of pupil services at Sevastopol, says that the therapy dogs that the Door County Therapy Dog Program brings to schools provide many benefits to the students and staff.

“Overall, therapy dogs bring a sense of calm for students and help to de-escalate emotional or behavioral needs,” Marggraf explains. “Our dogs are a great comfort for those in need, and they almost always put a smile on everyone’s face.”

However, the dogs do much more than put a smile on students’ faces. Julie LaLuzerne, the Door County Therapy Dog Coordinator, explains that the dogs are also helping build literacy in schools.

“Schools continue to focus on literacy, and this program is another tool to help build interest and excitement about reading,” LaLuzerne explains. “Therapy dogs provide an audience for students who may be reluctant to read. In addition, a dog is often a willing listener and does not judge the reading ability of a reluctant reader.”

One of the dogs who focuses explicitly on reading is 9-year-old English Cream Retriever Nellie Bly – the pen name of Elizabeth Cochran Seaman, an American journalist who also was a writer, industrialist, inventor, and charity worker. Nellie is certified through Therapy Dogs International and started her services in 2016 at the Egg Harbor Library. She now works with the second graders and their literacy.

Another furry friend that the therapy dog program brings to school is Buttercup, who is six years and five months old and has just recently started her “work.” Buttercup’s handler, Linda Nault, is happy to see how the services she and Buttercup provide positively affect students.

“It is just an amazing feeling watching both the children and adults pet and love on Buttercup,” Nault exclaims. “It makes me very happy to bring this joy to everyone, not to mention the joy Buttercup feels to receive it. As a young person who went to Sevastopol many years ago, I would have loved to have had a dog like her greet me as I came into school.”

Buttercup, according to Nault, has been through obedience classes and has her CGC (Canine Good Citizen) title. The training for Therapy International is similar to CGC. The dog learns to be calm, not be excited by loud noises or running, walk nicely on a leash, be willing to experience new situations, be house-trained, and love children and adults. You can interact with Buttercup on Friday mornings.

Second-grade teacher Katie Grooters is happy with the benefits that the dogs bring to her classroom.

“The students really look forward to our friends’ visits and love when the dogs and their owners arrive,” Grooters says. “All the kids get to say ‘Hi’ as they walk through our classrooms, so every child gets a chance to interact with the dogs, even if it’s not their turn to read with them. In addition, each child gets to read to the dogs if they want to multiple times a year. Reading to our dogs builds confidence and fluency in reading skills, and we really appreciate our volunteer’s time and efforts to make it happen every week.”