Coodanup College students benefit from support dog

Caleb Tomich, Shannon Briffa, Jennifer Davies, Taleah Woods and Cameron Wood with Justus.        Picture: Jon Hewson   d451190
Caleb Tomich, Shannon Briffa, Jennifer Davies, Taleah Woods and Cameron Wood with Justus.        Picture: Jon Hewson d451190

He is a k9 companion who is helping students with learning difficulties.

Justus wags his tail and is always happy to see children – who may have autism or attention deficit hyperactivity disorder – when they get to school.

Justus is two years old and has been working as an Education Support Dog for six months.

He was trained and placed in the school free of charge by charity Assistance Dogs Australia.

Justus is a four-legged friend mainly for the Year 7s, although he is there to support all staff and students.

“Justus brings a lot of joy and unconditional love to everyone who knows him,” Rebekka Bell said. “Teachers from other learning areas have often come to my class with a student who just needs a pat or cuddle with Justus.”

Ms Bell said her Year 7 students were new to high school.

“Justus has helped them with this transition and has made them feel less anxious about it,” she said.

“There have been improvements in attendance, reduced negative behaviours and a general sense of happiness and calmness.

“Another positive outcome is there has been a reduction in the amount of litter around the school, as the students are aware that they need to keep the school grounds clean and safe for Justus.”

Ms Bell said the classroom rules were built around looking after Justus’s emotional needs too.

“The students’ interactions with each other are based around how we speak to Justus; say please and thank you, use a kind and friendly voice,” she said.

“Justus has his own little area with his crate and artificial grass right beside our reading corner in the classroom.

“Students are rostered on to read to Justus every day, as well as to monitor his needs: water, toilet, exercise and emotions.

“I believe Justus is teaching them empathy, compassion and warmth towards others.

“In my class he is a friend and companion to all.”

Ms Bell said some of her students had low self-esteem and having Justus helped reinforce positive behaviours.

“For our final assembly in 2015, Justus presented the top five behaviour awards to the students,” she said.

“My class trained Justus to sit up on a platform and hold a certificate in his mouth, shake hands and give the certificate to each student.”

On evenings and weekends, Justus lives at home with Ms Bell and loves to play in the garden or at the beach.

“Having Justus I feel so blessed, as he is not just helping one person every day. As an Educational Support Dog, he has a positive impact on so many little lives on a daily basis,” she said.