It's Friday morning, and the class at Cincinnati Union Bethel's Early Learning Academy Camp Washington is sitting in a circle in the library, waiting attentively, carefully prepared by their teacher. The door opens, and in walks Lincolnon all fours. He and his owner sit in the middle of the circle and the children come up two by two to pet him on his wolf-like fur.
Lincoln is a therapy doga form of treatment frequently prescribed for recently returned veterans with PTSD.
Jeanne Haungs, the administrative assistant at the preschool, initiated the dog visits this May because she had worked at a homeless shelter where they used therapy dogs to calm the children and she felt the calming influence would help children living in poverty too.
When someone touches a calm dog, Haungs explains, it lowers their blood pressure. It's the same neurochemical reaction as a mom touching a baby. Children who have experienced a great deal of stresssuch as being homelessand are acting out learn how to touch gently. You could say the dogs are modeling calm reactions and good behavior.
The children have also learned how to pet a dog, a learned skill for three to five year olds who often aren't exposed to pets in the home. While Lincoln is a Great Dane-Shepherd-Husky mix, Haung explains that therapy dogs need not be large. The key quality is temperament. There are Daschunds and Border Collies who are wonderful therapy dogs. But the size has helped the children learn that larger dogs aren't scary.
After a half-hour, during which the kids rest their heads on Lincoln, pet him gently and even pretend to read to him, Lincoln and his owner leave amid a chorus of happy goodbyes. As they depart, a girl summarizes the feeling in the classroom: That dog was gooooood!