Holy Cross therapy dog helps students relax and read better

Addie models her Holy Cross t-shirt, sitting next to her handler and mom, second grade teacher Shelly Henn. She’s saying, “You took my picture, now may I please have a treat?” (Marty Denzer/Key photo)

By Marty Denzer
Catholic Key Associate Editor

KANSAS CITY — Adeline Rose (Addie) is a one-year-old, black lab mix, with calm brown eyes and a quiet manner. She’s been at Holy Cross school about two months now — a trained therapy dog who’s helping second graders read better, and making friends all through the school.

Second grade teacher Shelly Henn is her adoptive mom and handler. About three months ago, Henn and principal Barb Deane discussed the possibility of a therapy dog on site. Henn’s own dog had died and she wanted to adopt another, and Deane had wanted a therapy dog as far back as 1999 when she started an alternative school at Crittenden. Henn had heard of rescue dogs being trained by inmates through the Puppies for Parole program (P4P) at Crossroads Correctional Center in Cameron. She contacted the prison, and drove to Cameron the next day.

The P4P program pairs rescue dogs with selected offenders who work with them, teaching them basic obedience skills and properly socializing the animals, making them more adoptable. It’s a win-win situation — the program gives offenders needed skills that support successful rehabilitation and reentry, improving public safety in the long run.

P4P also saves dogs’ lives. More than 4,000 unwanted dogs that would have been euthanized have found forever homes through the program. Some of the dogs, like Addie, were specially trained to work with the disabled, children with special needs, veterans and mental health patients.

Addie was still a puppy when she found her way to an animal shelter in Cameron. Maybe it was her personality, maybe it was those calm brown eyes, something prompted the shelter to send her to Crossroads for training as soon as she was declared healthy.

At Crossroads, she was paired with two inmates, and spent 24 hours a day with them, Henn said. She slept in their cell, ate at their feet at meal times, exercised in the yard with them, and was socialized and trained to work with children with special needs.

Henn felt an immediate connection with Addie when they were introduced. The adoption was soon accomplished and Addie moved to Kansas City with her new mom that same day. The next morning, Addie came to Holy Cross School to meet Henn’s second grade class.

She was a hit with most of the second graders right from the start. A few kids took a little while to get used to the idea of a dog in the classroom, but now she’s one of them. She has a special chair she sits on when a child wants to read a book to her, usually one of the Clifford, the Big Red Dog series.

Henn explained that reading to Addie is more than just entertainment. For many of the students at Holy Cross, English is not their first language. “Fluency in English is important for children with two or more languages,” she said. “Reading Clifford out loud to Addie helps them practice their English, both speaking and reading the words. And Addie sits still, like she’s understanding and enjoying the story.”

She also serves as a calming influence. Henn told of an upset, frustrated child who calmed down just stroking the dog for a while. She doesn’t get excited or startled by people or loud noises, although she has barked softly to alert Henn of someone at the classroom door.

While most of her days at Holy Cross are spent with the second grade, she also spends time with the third graders.

Addie is scheduled for behavior modification and further therapy training. “She’s got her Bachelor’s in therapy, now she’s going for her Master’s and Ph.D.,” Henn joked. That training starts this summer.

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  • Sondra Williams

    Hello! I truly enjoyed reading about Addie, for you see, my brother is one of the inmates that cared for and trained her. All of our phone conversations start with an update of his current dog and Addie was especially dear to his heart. We grew up with dogs and have a heart for them. My brother felt that Addie was destined for greatness and she didn’t disappoint! He is just a proud as punch to know she has such an important job and includes her, and you in his prayers! If you have a spare moment, I would love to know her progress on those advanced degrees (lol)! Thank you for adopting Addie and God bless your heart!

Thursday
October 19, 2017
Newspaper of the Diocese of Kansas City ~ St. Joseph