Kansas preschoolers go to school with a dog

HOLTON (KSNT) — Imagine being able to hang out with a puppy while going to school. It might sound too good to be true, unless you’re a preschooler at Jackson Heights Elementary School in Holton, Kan.

“I didn’t want a therapy dog because most therapy dogs are big and I know, at this age, they’re very intimidating to little ones,” said Kay Smith, preschool teacher at Jackson Heights Elementary School.

That’s how Bella, a Yorkshire Terrier, went from being just a dog, to a learning tool. “I was trying to think of ways to reach out to several children on the autism spectrum,” Smith said. “Also, I’ve had some children that have been in foster care, so they’ve gone from home to home to home.”

Since November of 2014, Bella’s become a staple in the classroom. Though she may not be able to talk, Bella has her own little way of making kids listen. “They just know to put their backpacks down. They go sit on a shape and Bella goes and makes sure that everybody is here for the day.”

As the students allow Bella to sniff and lick them, they learn to sit still and be patient. If they want to pet her, they must ask permission and hold their hand out.

In a sense, every child feels responsible for Bella and they learn to treat her with respect. If a child is having a behavioral issue Smith allows the child to go sit in the corner with Bella and calm down.

“She’s never showed any signs of aggression or anything at all with the kids,” Smith said. “But if Bella’s gone then they want to know where she’s at. In the evenings she comes home with me and on the weekends it’s like she’s lost, you know she’s looking for kids.”

During the summers, Bella goes to her other job on the farm, where she rides around in the combine helping her family with harvest.

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