The students at Rochester’s School 19 have a new addition, a dog named Blaze. Blaze is a yellow lab that together with his owner, school psychologist Angela Mullally, helps special needs students with their social and emotional development. Though he has only just begun his tenure at School 19, Blaze has already made a difference for many students, just by brightening their days.
“When you talk to him, he listens,” said John, a fifth-grade student at Rochester’s School 19. “He looks directly at you.” Even with many pairs of hands reaching in for pets at the same time, Blaze remained calm and happy and thrives in group environments. Dogs are known to have a calming effect on people, which can result in a drop in heart rate, blood pressure, and stress levels, and essentially help students to focus.
“We have a lot of drop-ins, just students who come to say hi and leave with a big smile on their face,” said Mullally. “We also have kids who are feeling a little stressed, so they’ll ask for a pass to come sit and hang out with him.” Some students even write notes to Blaze and place them inside his vest. Blaze has been training for this job for about 18 months and according to Mullally is a certified service animal. Blaze, in addition to working one on one with students will also do classroom visits.
Blaze came to the school via the National Education for Assisted Dog Services, a nonprofit organization for therapeutic service dogs and the cost of his training was covered by a donation from a fire department in Worcester, Mass. The firemen also named the dog. “I thought it was a wonderful idea,” said Eva Thomas, principal of School 19. “We have a high special education population in our building and we’re always trying to find creative ways to meet the needs of our students.”