On his way to a corridor at Sierra Vista High School, Dood the Dog stopped at an open door leading to the cooking class—presumably because he smelled something he wanted—and peered inside.
Headmistress Jessica Lovell told him, “Not from cooking, buddy.”
The two-year-old Goldendoodle returned to the hallway and continued on his way to his destination: the school’s “Zen Din” wellness room.
It’s the second year that Dodd has been a therapy dog at Sierra Vista in Southwest Las Vegas. It helps provide an outlet for students to combat their anxiety – especially after the COVID-19 pandemic and distance learning.
Lovell, who was a teacher and school counselor at a few Clark County school campuses before becoming a school principal, said she bought Dodd as a puppy specifically to be a therapy dog.
“I knew I wanted him to work with children in schools,” she said.
Lovell, his guardian, said Dodd had no formal certification, but had undergone four weeks of intensive “inpatient” training to prepare.
It removes all my problems
When she was an assistant principal at Palo Verde High School in northwest Las Vegas, Lovell was reflecting on the impact of the pandemic on students.
“Even before the pandemic, I noticed a rise in anxiety,” she said.
Students who experienced trauma didn’t know how to deal with it, Lovell said, and the pandemic made things worse.
She has a niece at private Faith Lutheran Middle & High School, who has a therapy dog named Esther, and he made her consider this option for Sierra Vista.
Sometimes students just can’t express how they’re feeling, and having something else to focus on can help channel those feelings, Lovell said, in addition to providing a sense of calm and aiding in gaining coping strategies.
Sierra Vista junior Romain Dubos, 17, said he first met Dodd while his therapy dog was walking around campus. Dodd sniffed his hand and started licking it.
“When I’m really stressed out, I come in and soothe him, and it helps me a lot,” Roman said.
He later added, “It took all my troubles away.”
Part of the school community
It’s unusual for Clark County school campuses to have a therapy dog, Lovell said, but the number of schools with one is increasing. A spokesperson said the district does not keep track of the number of schools that have therapy dogs.
Lovell started bringing Dood to major meetings with her senior year of school and received a lot of questions about how a therapy dog would work in Sierra Vista.
It’s a lot of work, she said, noting that the rewards far outweigh the effort.
In order to have a dog on campus, Lovell had to obtain permission from a number of sources, including the school district’s risk management department and the district supervisor.
It has also notified Sierra Vista parents — in particular, as a heads-up for any students who are allergic to dogs. Despite this, Goldendoodles are popular therapy dogs because in addition to their cheerful demeanor, they are generally considered more sensitive than many other breeds.
While on campus, Dowd wears a sash specially made with his name on it. He also wears a blue vest that includes his school identification badge, a “Sierra Vista” collar and a “therapy dog” collar.
Lovell said Dowd is part of the school community. It appears on the school’s website and in the yearbook. And he attends special events like sports, homecomings, proms, and graduations.
He also assisted Lovell in her role as principal.
One of the hardest aspects of being a school principal, Lovell said, was “the kids don’t want to talk to you.” Now, the students recognize her as the lady with the dog.
“Dood has really helped me bridge the gap with a lot of kids,” she said.
A typical day on campus
On a typical school day, Dodd welcomes the students to the quartet as they arrive before classes begin. After all the excitement, he’s usually ready to take a nap on his dog bed in Lovell’s office.
Then they visit the classrooms.
“He loves an open classroom door,” Lovell said.
Dodd continues lunch duty. Lovell said his favorite day is when Raising Cane’s is served because he can eat chicken that’s dropped on the floor.
At class time, Dodd mixes with the students and teachers again. And throughout the school day, Lovell gets calls over the Sierra Vista radio system that someone needs Dood.
The famous dog also frequents the “Zen Den”.
The space is dimly lit and comfortable seating such as sofas and bean bag chairs. The blackboards on one of the walls are covered with students’ drawings. Neon signs display inspirational words: dream. Believe. investigate.
Roman—who has two cats at home, but no dogs—sat on a couch on Wednesday cuddling Dodd, who rested his head on his lap.
“He’s tired, isn’t he?” said the student.
“It’s afternoon nap time,” Lovell replied.
The senior dog on campus can be stressful and overstimulated at times. When Dodd needs a break, he curls up under Lovell’s desk.
It’s a sign that he needs a little rest before he’s ready to go out again on campus.
Contact Julie Wootton-Greener at email@example.com or 702-387-2921. Follow @julieswootton on Twitter.