Therapy dogs bring a dose of well-being to DSUSD


Do you have a “Ruff” day? DSUSD employs therapy dogs to help

Did you know that the simple act of petting an animal triggers an automatic relaxation reaction? Research shows that the action releases serotonin and oxytocin hormones that play a role in elevating mood.

Budders and his human Sue Ann Blach

In today’s difficult times, an extra dose of well-being is welcome! At DSUSD, that extra emotional support often comes from one of the therapy dogs in several of our schools. The dogs may think they’re the ones receiving the love, but it’s the ones who have the opportunity to interact with Budders and Quartz and Paula who know we’re the ones who leave feeling a little better than before.

Budders and Quartz are therapy dogs owned by two DSUSD staff. Budders and his human, Sue Ann Blach, an ERMHS (Education-Related Mental Health Services) Advisor, spend most of their time at Summit High School. This school shares a physical campus with Horizon School so Budders can see lots of students. She also visits other DSUSD schools. Blach explains, “Animal Assisted Therapy is a goal-oriented intervention led and / or delivered by a healthcare professional, human or educational services and aims to improve physical, social, emotional and / or cognitive skills of students and / or staff. members. Therapy dogs are individually trained, assessed and registered with their owner to provide animal assisted activities, animal assisted therapy and animal assisted interactions within a certain setting.

Therapy dogs bring a dose of well-being to DSUSD

Paula is waiting to pull out a book from the library.

Budders (short for Butterscotch) accompanies his human-to-student mental health appointments, classroom visits and staff meetings. She also joined the team at school council meetings. Blach is a Licensed Marriage and Family Therapist and Certified Art Therapist with a special interest in trauma treatment. “Having a neurobiological understanding of trauma and knowing how to use art in treatment has helped me increase student engagement in therapy, and I have another tool, Budders! Blach declares. She continues, “I’ve seen Budders hire withdrawn and socially avoidant students who are cautious of adults or social opportunities. Budders is considered a safe and non-threatening entity; students are ready to soften their defenses with it.

According to Blach, Budders has been a vital staff member during the school’s shutdown, the hybrid schedule, and is now returning full-time. “Safety measures with the pandemic included physical distancing and limited social interaction. Budders offered a safe and healthy way to cuddle and provide the physical comfort we need for good mental well-being. Blach shared that Budders has helped reduce the stigma of mental health. “The students approach me first to pet Budders and eventually they learn what we’re doing. She has been an icebreaker for students who may not have asked for help or taken the opportunity to share the personal challenges that impact them at school. The buds can be seen almost every day at the school quad during lunch hour. She’s ready for pets, a skinny (hug), rapport play and / or back / belly massage. Blach shared, “One day Dr. Strange, Deputy Principal of Summit High School, approached me and told me that a student asked, ‘Where’s Budders? This is the reason why I am delighted to come to the school.

Therapy dogs bring a dose of well-being to DSUSD

Quartz and Budders lead the way.

Following Budders’ success, Shadow Hills High School vice-principal Sharon Kalkoske, Ed.D., became a therapy dog ​​handler and Quartz joined the Knights team. Kalkoske explained to an Animal Samaritan volunteer that she was working on her thesis on therapy dogs. The volunteer was at Shadow Hills High School with her dog Glee. Canine companions for independence (CCI) was looking for a school to pilot their reassigned therapy dog ​​program and Quartz was ready. The reassigned therapy program is for dogs that have retired from another service or, for whatever reason, do not fit the mold of the service program they are in.

Assistance dogs such as Budders and Quartz visit our schools as part of community programs. Teacher Michelle Veliz of Ronald Reagan Elementary School helps guide dogs in the desert and trains Paula, a standard poodle. Part of this training finds Paula on the school campus. Around the age of two, Paula will join her new human, ready to serve and help. As for Ms. Veliz and the school, they are already planning to welcome their next dog.

The Desert Sands Unified School District is committed to the whole student, not only by providing a quality education, but also a safe and nurturing environment. Human staff appreciate and value the work of our canine staff.

Caption of the main photo: Sharon Kalkoske and Quartz

Image sources

  • Woman and dog: DSUSD
  • Teacher and children: DSUSD
  • Two dogs: DSUSD
  • Sharon Kalkoske and Quartz: DSUSD


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