Duke, an American Staffordshire terrier mix, was four months old when Mario Suarez, a therapeutic support center teacher at Pocantico, and his family found him at the North Shore Animal League America shelter in Nassau County and decided to make him their own.
Seven years later, Duke is getting ready to start as the newest member of the Pocantico Hills School staff.
Duke is wholly up to the task said Suarez. In November, Duke successfully completed the Canine Good Citizen and Therapy Dog programs and received the two American Kennel Club certifications necessary to qualify as a therapeutic support animal.
“He’s a little mush,” said Suarez. “You start petting him and he just falls over onto his back.”
The Pocantico Hills School Foundation provided funding to bring Duke into the school as a therapeutic care dog.
“A lot of schools have had success with this for years,” said foundation co-president and parent Lauren Amsterdam.
Research has found that having therapy dogs in school settings can reduce students’ stress, anxiety and negative feelings.
“We’re very excited to have Duke join our staff,” said Superintendent Richard Calkins.
Duke will be another member of the Therapeutic Support Center staff helping children who have emotional needs. “It doesn’t work with every child, but there are going to be some children for whom just hugging a dog and petting him for two minutes is enough to help them regulate their emotions and get them ready to enter the classroom again and be available to learn,” said Suarez.