Dog gone good

Emmy, therapy dog introduced to Rosy Mound to reduce stress in anxious children


Grace O

Emmy the therapy dog is a furry friend in Amy Polston’s 1st grade classroom

Amidst a bustling, colorful, elementary school classroom sits a companion curled peacefully underneath a table and staring up with sweet puppy dog eyes. It’s hard to imagine with all the distractions that Emmy, a 16 month old golden retriever puppy, wouldn’t be barking or chasing her tail. But Emmy is a special dog with a soothing temperament. 

With a light brown-sugar colored coat that is heavenly soft and round pleading eyes, Emmy’s cuteness sweeps you off your feet. She loves to romp outside and chase the occasional squirrel— just like any puppy.

But Emmy also happens to work at Rosy Mound Elementary as a therapy dog in Amy Polston’s first-grade classroom.  

At the beginning of the 2018 school year, Emmy was welcomed to Rosy Mound. She was bought from Cindy O’Beirne, a breeder known for raising laid-back golden retrievers that are docile with kids. The purpose of bringing Emmy into the classroom was to help ease the stress that school expectations bring.

“We’re just asking more and more of kids now than ever before,” Polston said. 

We’re just asking more and more of kids now than ever before.”

— Amy Polston

According to the Center for Disease Control and Prevention, mental disorders in children have been increasing over time. The staff at Rosy Mound has observed this shift in the classroom.

“We’ve been noticing that a lot of kids are coming to school with anxiety,” Polston said. “We’re having a lot of kids that are seeing outside therapist for depression and mental health issues already.” 

With the idea of reducing mental health problems and invirograting the school with joy in mind, Polston and principal Kevin Blanding started to brainstorm ways to help kids. Polston was adamant about the idea of a therapy dog, which had proved extremely beneficial at a previous teaching job in Spring Lake. 

“It was so positive,” Polston said. “The kids wanted to come to school, they weren’t crying about missing mom or dad. They were just excited to come and have this lifelong friend in their classroom with them.” 

Because of this promising impact at Spring Lake schools the staff decided that the school would benefit from a therapy dog. After several talks between Polston and Blanding, the idea was solidified. 

The Polston family then brought Emmy home in the summer of 2018, and her integration to Rosy began in the following fall. Since then, it has has been progressing in a positive way. She has completed puppy training ,4-H training, and become certified through Alliance therapy dogs, as well as interacting with more and more students.

“She’s definitely part of our classroom,” Polston said. “Mr. Blanding will come down and get her if a student is having a hard time. We have a new social worker now full time this year of elementary schools too. I talked with her and said, ‘If you’re meeting with a kid and think you need to borrow Emmy you can.’”

When she was really young, Emmy’s rambunctious nature often got the best of her. Once in a while, she would escape because of her too big collar and liked to chew. 

“She was teething and she would grab an occasional crayon but this year is better because now she’s over it,” Polston said. “She also has a really bad habit of barking at her basket. She wants it to be empty. So now, I have two girls that that’s their job is to go over and make sure everything is out.”

Allergies were also a concern.  A letter was sent out to families addressing the matter, but there was only one response out of 400 students.

However, the school came up with an easy solution. The custodial staff cleans every night and the child was not placed in Polston’s classroom. Emmy also gets groomed once a month to reduce shedding and so that she can attend school without an issue. 

Now that the kinks and troubles of puppyhood are sorted out, Emmy comes to class every day prepared to learn and help. Even though elementary school and a puppy may seem like a hectic combination, everything has worked out wonderfully. And the idea of a therapy dog is more common than one might think. With the exception of the high school, every school in the district has one.

As soon the Polston’s brought her home, Emmy was instantly adored. Her effect was no different at the elementary.

Emmy is a really good friend in our class. She makes me feel very happy inside.”

— Sophia, 1st grader

“Emmy is a really good friend in our class,” said Sophia, a first-grader in Polston’s class. “She makes me feel very happy inside.”  

The delight this dog brings to Rosy Mound is evident. Instead of the school becoming overwhelming, the children now have a positive distraction. 

“She just brings joy,” Polston said. “When I see the kids faces every morning, it’s so cute. The kids will enter the class. She goes over and gets one

of her toys and like she meets them at the door and there are smiles on their faces. [It] just makes it all worth it.”