Owego school welcomes therapy dog to join physical education classes

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Published: Oct. 13, 2022 at 8:37 PM EDT
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OWEGO (WBNG) - Over at Owego Apalachin Middle School, a four-legged friend joins the students for gym class. Wrigley and Physical Education Teacher Koren Rubino are the duo to make this possible.

“I really thought that it might be like a distraction during the game whenever we’re playing dodgeball or something like that,” said Lincoln Miller of sixth grade. “No, it’s not.”

Wrigley was introduced to students during the spring of 2022, but this will be his first full school year interacting with students. “It makes us feel like happy,” said Miller. “I’m always going down to pet him and it makes me feel like really happy that he’s there.”

Wrigley is Rubino’s second therapy dog. From her experience so far, she explained how it enhanced the class experience. “Phys Ed can be really stressful for some kids so it makes them feel a little bit less judged,” she said. “It helps me build connections with kids that maybe wouldn’t normally make connections with me specifically as a Phys Ed teacher. The dogs just kind of cheer everybody up and lighten the mood.”

To get to this point, preparation was key to get the dog certified. “It’s a least a year-long process,” said Rubino. “So they can’t take and certify, within any therapy organization, until they are a year old. They have to pass several behavioral tests and they also should be a mix of social, a little bit adventurous, and like the chaos that can be in a Phys Ed setting and school.”

Rubino talked about managing the double responsibility and navigating having a dog by her side during lessons. “I get Wrigley kind of in a stationary position and then I continue teaching,” she said. “Sometimes he likes to go around and interact with the kids on his own. Sometimes he doesn’t come with me for every class.”

As the handler, Rubino will read the dog’s body language to know when he needs a break.

The idea of therapy dogs is gaining popularity. Wrigley’s brother is also a therapy dog over at Newark Valley. Also, Rubino mentioned another Phys Ed teacher over at Binghamton City High School has a therapy dog.