Education

Who can resist a face like this? School districts embracing lovable therapy animals

Jeter is a therapy dog in Selma Unified School District.
Jeter is a therapy dog in Selma Unified School District. Special to the Bee

Jeter may have a serious look in his Selma Unified School District identification badge. But to anyone who knows him, he really is a hard working and fun-loving staff member.

You see, Jeter is a therapy animal at Selma schools. And on any given day you can find this blonde-colored cockapoo working with individual students or groups of students from pre-kindergarten through high school. And by working, we mean sitting in someone’s lap or letting someone cuddle with him or petting his fluffy coat.

Being a friend is what Jeter does best, says Kristy Rangel, his owner and a mental health clinician at Selma Unified.

“As a therapy animal he provides support and comfort to students,” Rangel said. “And he gets the students to let their guard down and open up.”

Although Selma schools adopted the concept last year, the method has been used in schools across the country as a way to give students an extra hand, or paw, when they need it.

Clovis Unified has been using a therapy dog for several years. It has a therapy dog on the Clovis North campus and will bring additional dogs onto other campuses during finals weeks as a way to alleviate stress. There is even a program at Bonita High School in the Los Angeles County community of La Verne that gives students an opportunity to train therapy dogs.

In Selma, Jeter has already proven his worth.

Selma Unified Superintendent Tanya Fisher says Jeter’s calm temperament and his cuddly body are great tools to help get some kids, who otherwise might be reluctant, to talk with school staff or therapists like Rangel.

“He really helps in that process,” she said. “He has really changed the culture around here by creating a sense of caring and connectedness.”

He also is pretty darn cute. For many of his fans, Selma schools has started a line of Jeter merchandise, including badges, bookmarks and note cards. Staff are working on a T-shirt design.

Students can also earn rewards for good behavior that they redeem for one-on-one time with Jeter, who is named after the famed New York Yankees shortstop Derek Jeter. The students can read to the dog, play fetch or watch him run an agility course.

Does Jeter ever tire of the attention from the students? Rangel says no.

“He seems like he was born to do this,” she said.

Robert Rodriguez: 559-441-6327, @FresnoBeeBob

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