Knoxville middle school therapy dog goes back to class with students

(Courtesy: WATE)

KNOXVILLE, Tenn. (WATE) — Students heading back to school may be excited to see their friends or teachers, but some students at Holston Middle in Knoxville are excited to see the school’s therapy dog, Cody.

“I got Cody when he was three-months old and I always kind of knew he was a special dog – just really connected with people on a deeper level,” said Cody’s owner and Holston Middle School teacher, Megan Sullivan. “Coming to Holston, I really wanted to get him involved but wasn’t sure how we could do it at more of a middle school level so we started doing a little bit of research on that.”

Cody’s work as a therapy dog first began at University of Tennessee Medical Center on the Cancer Patient Floor before coming to Holston Middle School.

Through Human Animal Bond in Tennessee (HABIT), Sullivan was able to incorporate the 10-year-old golden retriever in her special education and general education classroom.

For now, only students in Sullivan’s class have waivers to be with Cody. Spending one day a week at school, Cody’s time is split between Sullivan’s class and the guidance office.

With four paws and two non-judgmental furry ears, Holston Middle School guidance counselor Haley Johnson said Cody has turned into a great tool to reach out to students.

(Courtesy: WATE)

“You know with middle schoolers, a lot of times kids kind of come in with this front like they’re too cool for school but not many kids are too cool for Cody,” said Johnson.

Doing just about anything to get a little bit of time with him, students take Cody for walks and change his water. While those things might sound like chores to some, it’s actually a 15 to 20 minute “brain break” for students.

“When it’s Cody, and it’s at school, and maybe you’re getting some free time to hangout it’s more exciting,” explained Johnson. “He’s someone that we can tell kids to be more like Cody. Be a listening ear. Be a calming presence. Just be trustworthy and somebody you can lean on.”

Sullivan said she had a student last year that was not very verbal and it was a challenge to pry any kind of conversation out of her.

She said that was the case right up until Cody was first introduced to Holston Middle School in March of last school year.

“She so looked forward to every Friday knowing that he was going to be here and she would just yell, ‘Hi Cody!’ and she had never greeted anybody that I had seen before, and so for her to do that with him was just very moving for me,” said Sullivan.

(Courtesy: WATE)

That same student eventually started interacting with others through Cody.

“They’d be playing with him so she and I would talk about how she could go up and kind of work with them, with Cody, and because Cody was such a motivator for her she was willing to interact with them in order to be with him,” said Sullivan.

Sullivan said Cody is not only therapeutic to students. She says he’s also been therapeutic for teachers.

“We came back on Monday and I’d say probably 15 to 20 teachers came up and said, ‘Where’s Cody?,’ ‘Why isn’t Cody here? When’s Cody coming back?’ I was like, ‘I hope you had a good summer too,’” laughed Sullivan.