AIR Dog’s School Therapy Dog Program Partners with Hopewell Valley School District
This is a special series highlighting a new partnership with the Hopwell Valley School District and each recently certified AIR Therapy Dog team from the district. To learn more about this initiative, please read here.
Nicole Gianfredi was very excited about the new program to train dogs owned by Hopewell Valley staff, but wasn’t certain her dog, Lucy, was therapy dog material.
“She had no sense of personal boundaries. She thinks she’s a lap dog,” recalled Nicole, principal of Timberlane Middle School for the past three years. “I just kept picturing her just sitting on the kids.”
But after months of training to prepare for the therapy dog test, Nicole and 12-year-old Lucy became certified and the yellow lab is a professional.
“I truly thought you couldn’t teach an old dog new tricks, but I was wrong,” Nicole said. “She’s learned now that she stays with me and the kids can come up and pet her.”
Preparing for therapy certification has involved Nicole’s 8-year-old daughter, who helped train at home. “It’s opened her eyes to different ways to give back to the community, which is so cool,” said Nicole.
Nicole also is excited to be able to be more involved in AIR’s mission to educate and reduce the stigma of mental illness.
“I have had personal connections to suicide,” said Nicole, a former special education teacher. “We have to take care of each other and take care of our young people.”
“Mental health and the social and emotional learning for our students is so critical,” she continued. “The dogs make it a comfortable and safe environment to engage in this conversation, which is important for such a young age. And it’s really powerful to have our furry friends to play a role in that.”
Nicole lives in Ewing with her husband, their daughter and Lucy. In her spare time, she enjoys crafts, baking, exercise and whatever her book club is reading.
Lucy recently provided some therapy during a Zoom meeting with a student and at some training visits at school, but Nicole is looking forward to bringing Lucy to Timberlane on a regular basis.
“Bringing her into the school, it seems she knows that it’s her job to make people feel better,” said Nicole. “It’s really rewarding. I wish I had started when Lucy was younger but she has proven to us all that no matter what age you are you can make a difference in someone’s life.”