WELLINGTON CATHOLIC DISTRICT SCHOOL BOARD
A new staff member has joined the Wellington Catholic team. Welly, a two-year-old Labrador Retriever who was specially bred and trained to support students is now working at Bishop Macdonell Catholic High School.
Social workers help students struggling with social, emotional, and mental health challenges at school. Welly will work in partnership with two social workers who are trained facility dog handlers.
Wellington Catholic is the second Ontario school board to hire a facility dog to help support positive mental health and wellness among students and staff. Welly is a highly-trained facility dog, certified by National Service Dogs an accredited member of Assistance Dogs International.Similar to a service dog, Welly has passed all the necessary tests and assessments needed to perform his job. But rather than being trained for a specific individual’s needs, Welly works as an extension of the two social workers who will incorporate Welly into their day-to-day work in the school.
“From a mental health perspective, the work Welly does as an extension of his handler is incredibly important. The conversations started through initiatives such as Bell Let’s Talk are great examples of the importance of discussing mental health and wellness," says Dr. Brenda Kenyon, mental health lead at Wellington Catholic.
"We know that one in five individuals will face mental health challenges, and adolescents tend to struggle with many moments of distress. Research shows that the presence of animals reassures distressed individuals. We also know there is a preemptive therapeutic element to having a dog like Welly at the school. Through Welly, our social work team is able to help students navigate those challenges. Fitting within our board’s mental health strategy, Welly becomes pivotal in some of those early intervention strategies.”
“We like to say that Welly is a dog with a job,” says Jodi Allward, social worker at Bishop Macdonell and Welly’s primary handler. “He knows that when his purple vest is on, it’s time to work. Much of Welly’s job involves simply being present with whomever he’s comforting."
As a facility dog, Welly’s job is to be present and be calm around people; often a challenge for dogs as they tend to enjoy being the centre of attention. Welly, however has been trained and tested for his role in the high school.
He acts as a non-judgmental intermediary. Even just sitting with him, people often find they are better able to regulate their emotions and problem solve. And in the evening when the vest comes off, Welly knows he’s done work and he gets to be a regular dog again. He loves to play soccer - his favourite game.”
Earlier this fall, the board shared news of Welly’s arrival with parents and guardians, and students were given lessons on how to properly approach Welly when he is working. Since his arrival, staff and students have welcomed Welly with open arms and, of course, the occasional scratch behind the ear.
For more information about Welly please click here.