“He makes me feel comfortable, happy,” said high schooler Charlie Alexander Soloman-Jimmy about therapy dog Maverick, a white poodle. “And he makes me laugh sometimes."
Junior High student Mason Blangeard had this to say about Chappie the corgi, another therapy dog.
"It's always just really nice to pet the therapy dogs. She makes me happy and less anxious.”
Chance Rollins, another Mt. Baker High student summed it up, while cuddling Maverick in his class.
Substitute teacher Nicole Kuklenski started the therapy dog program with Sissy, her black standard poodle, in 2019. Soon her dogs Maverick and Scarlett, also poodles, became therapy dogs as well. And the most popular kids at school
Kuklenski emphasizes this is not ‘bring your dog to work’ day. Today, including Kuklenski's 3 dogs, there are a total of 6 ‘Pawsitively Baker’ dogs. And they all graduated from therapy dog school before they came to these schools.
"Not every dog is cut out for doing this," Kuklenski said. "It's a crazy campus, there's a lot of noise, there are a lot of kids with different challenges and behaviors and they (the dogs) need to adapt to that because we can't have the kids adapt.”
Kuklenski added she’s seen these dogs help with attendance (because kids show up in class when there’s a dog to pet) finishing assignments on time, (when the reward for turning in that paper is taking a dog outside for a quick walk,) and they even calm kids in crisis.
These dogs don't just help students. They help educators too.
"I really feel like I’ve met some of my students for the first time over the back of this dog,” said high school biology teacher Holly Koon about her therapy dog Sadie. “I really feel like the dog is a double whammy, it's that direct impact they have on kids, she's cheerful, we walk around the track together and she's greeting kids. But then there's the secondary, or maybe greater impact she has which is making me a better teacher because the more I know my students, the more I can meet their needs."
Mt. Baker Junior High principal Troy Wright's corgi Chappie makes the dreaded visit to the principal's office much better.
“She is a game changer,” Wright said. “Kids will just group around me, during passing times to pet her and in so doing we'll have a conversation, and so I've gotten to know a lot of kids I wouldn't know otherwise because of Chappie.”
We saw Chappie in action — helping junior high student Mason Blangeard get through his interview with us.
“It really works. And I would be a nervous wreck — I'm a little bit nervous, but I would be a nervous wreck here if it wasn't for Chappie," Blangeard said as he held the corgi in his lap during the interview.
These working dogs are trained professionals. They're also adept at just doing what dogs do best: making people happy.
“They're always smiling at you and you get to pet ‘em and I don't know, just the sense of joy that they bring the campus,” said ASB President Ethan Larson while petting Sissy, now the elder statesdog of the bunch, and on the brink of retirement.
Everyone shares that joy when the Mount Baker therapy dogs make their rounds. And everyone here also hopes that by showing how helpful these dogs can be, other northwest schools will join the pack.
Mason Blangeard summed it up perfectly with a little help from Chappie.
"If you are at the school, or if you are a principal or you work at the schoolboard, you need to make it so that more schools have therapy dogs, because it actually helps a lot.”