Dog melts hearts and teaches life lessons at high school


TOLEDO, Ohio (AP) — Central Catholic High School’s newest staffer has four legs but gets around mostly on two — or on wheels.

Georgia is a young English bulldog mix now attending classes every day with her owner, psychology and sociology teacher Kristin McKinley. McKinley adopted the disabled canine in July from the Lenawee Humane Society in Adrian, Michigan, and began taking her to classes a few weeks ago.

“I’ve been wanting an emotional therapy dog for years for my classroom,” she said. “I’ve seen so many impacts of how it increases oxytocin in adolescents and helps them develop healthy relationships. … An animal can be so powerful.”

Once all the logistics were figured out, it was easy to obtain approval to bring Georgia to the school. Kevin Parkins, head of school, knows how beneficial a school therapy dog can be after previous experience with one at Cardinal Stritch Catholic High School and Academy.

“The response from the community was very affirmative and positive,” Parkins said. “She’s got such a beautiful story of perseverance. Georgia’s a great example of having to deal with the cards that have been dealt to her. I like to say she’s got the strongest shoulders in the school.”

Georgia’s shoulders are indeed buff because she has very limited use of her rear legs and uses her front limbs to pull herself along. She was originally found as a stray in Atlanta and had a serious infection that eroded the bones in her rear legs.

A Radio Flyer wagon is her other mode of transportation for now while students help her get comfortable with a custom canine wheelchair by applying the positive reinforcement method they are learning about in class.

“We’re using psychology to practice getting her seeing the wheelchair as a positive thing and not a negative thing,” McKinley said.

They are teaching Georgia basic obedience commands in the same way.

While Georgia is benefiting from the love, attention, and training, McKinley said students are likewise benefiting. Not only are they reinforcing their classroom learning by helping Georgia, but her presence is lowering stress levels, uplifting spirits, and providing other valuable life lessons.