LEESBURG — Leesburg Elementary School recently welcomed its newest employee, Hazel Grace Huffer, into the building.
Hazel is a six-year-old sheepadoodle, owned by fourth-grade teacher Stacy Huffer.
With Stacy’s help, Hazel finished her training for certification as a therapy dog in February 2020. She is certified and insured through Alliance of Therapy Dogs to comfort and bring joy to others. In order to be certified, Hazel graduated from two training classes and visited three different public places under the supervision of the ATD tester, two of which were medical facilities. Hazel is also trained to respond to visual cues and has learned hand signals for different commands such as sit, stay and lie down.
Hazel creates an atmosphere of joy just by being present. She is excited to greet everyone and is nonjudgmental, kind to all and a great listener. Her presence will aid students struggling with friendship and home issues, school anxiety and other problems, according to a news release from the school district.
Students are not required to interact with Hazel and their decision to not engage will be respected. Research shows that therapy dog programs provide significant benefits for students. According to the Alliance of Therapy Dogs, “therapy dogs have been called ‘miracle workers’ because of their calming effect on students and teachers.'” Therapy dogs help with everything from trauma to reading interventions to a positive school climate.
The presence of a dog can lower people’s blood pressure and stress levels, increase levels of dopamine and serotonin, improve physical well-being, decrease anxiety, dramatically increase positive mood, ease social isolation and help children learn social skills, and help young readers gain confidence. Leesburg Elementary is thrilled to have Hazel join their staff; together they will serve and enrich students’ lives on a daily basis.
Hazel’s first day at Leesburg was Monday, Aug. 31, and she quickly made a positive impact by helping two individual students regulate after becoming upset.
During the evenings and weekends, Hazel is practicing her therapy skills at Titus Funeral Home. When Hazel isn’t working, she enjoys chasing squirrels in the backyard, napping on her handler’s bed and cuddling on the couch. Warsaw Community Schools would like to thank Stacy Huffer and welcome Hazel to the WCS family.