May 7, 2021 by Carol Britton Meyer
Taco -- a friendly, affectionate nine-year-old chocolate lab therapy dog -- has been visiting Hingham High School under the volunteer Dog B.O.N.E.S. program to support students' social and emotional well-being during these challenging times.
Dog B.O.N.E.S. is an acronym for Dogs Building Opportunities for Nurturing and Emotional Support.
Adjustment Counselor Kevin Lalli thinks having a therapy dog at the high school at various times is "great for the kids. It's a big stress reliever and an opportunity for kids who might not otherwise have a conversation to connect with one another when visiting with Taco."
Taco started visiting when HHS returned to the in-person model on April 5. "A couple of mornings a week she is here to greet students as they come in, during mask breaks outside, and in-between classes. From 8 to 10 a.m. she is available to visit classrooms as requested by various teachers," fellow HHS Adjustment Counselor Jessica Hoguet told the Hingham Anchor.
She and Lalli are working with Michelle Grady, Taco's handler, to schedule the visits. She and Taco are certified through the free Scituate-based Dog B.O.N.E.S. volunteer program to make visits to a variety of locations.
The mission of this non-profit is to provide well-trained, affectionate, obedient, and well-trained dogs that are registered and insured for visits to schools, hospitals, nursing facilities, and other locations to provide therapeutic contact with children, the disabled, and senior citizens and "to bring a little fun into someone's day."
The overall feedback from students, parents, and teachers has been positive, according to Lalli and Hoguet.
So far Taco has visited nearly 70 classrooms. "The positive impact she had was immediate," Hoguet said. "We heard students making comments such as: 'My day just got infinitely better'; 'I NEED to see this dog'; and 'I've been looking for her all morning.'"
A concern was expressed about allergies, Hoguet said. She went on to explain that students with allergies "can easily avoid coming into contact with Taco, as he is outdoors or in the hallway outside the classroom, and only students who want to interact with him come out," Hoguet said.
One of the HHS teachers asked students what they thought after a visit from Taco. Here are some of their responses, with some teens advocating for a full-time therapy dog:
- "Having Taco in the building -- with her calm, friendly presence -- is very beneficial in easing stress and anxiety."
- "I felt more relaxed and happier after seeing Taco. I think our school would benefit from a full-time therapy dog because we can all be stressed at some point. Taking a break and petting a dog helps to relieve some stress and anxiety, especially in today's world with a lot of uncertainty."
- "I think having a full-time therapy dog would be very helpful and beneficial because it could help kids mentally (like me)."
- "I think having a full-time therapy dog would benefit our school very much. Last week was my first week in person, and I was very drained and not looking forward to another week until Taco came into the class. Personally, I love dogs, and my mood instantly changed. I had a better day after seeing Taco -- especially with COVID. All the rules are very exhausting and sometimes frustrating, so being able to go sit and pet a dog even for five minutes I feel would benefit everyone."
Hoguet said her and Lalli's dream is to have a grant-funded, full-time therapy dog at Hingham High. There's no specific plan at this time, and more details will be available at a later time.
In addition to the social/emotional benefits of having a dog at school, Taco was also a learning tool in a Chinese class, according to Hoguet.
After Taco visited, the teacher asked students to make up a story about Taco's day in Chinese. Here is one translation: "Taco is a French dog who works at a school. She works very hard! She wakes up at 6:30 in the morning and has breakfast. After eating breakfast, she puts on her working uniform and goes to work at 7:45 a.m. She eats tacos for lunch at noontime and then goes home at 2 p.m. Then she watches a TV show called Bones.
"At 3:30 p.m., she plays a game called 'Angry Bird' and has . . . hamburgers for dinner at 6:30 p.m. Taco takes a bath at 7:20 p.m. , then reads a book called 'Underdog.' Then she goes to bed. "
Lalli said Taco's visits at the school are "an easy way to provide emotional support to students, and they get the benefit right away. Taco's presence gives them a boost. It's a novelty for them, instead of always talking with an adult. It gives them pure joy," he said. "Of course, we're always available to talk with students as well."
Taco's visits will continue until the end of the school year, subject to her availability.
For more information, visit https://www.therapydog.