Star power: Therapy dog meets Abbot students, staff on her first day on the job

Star is expected to give comfort, relieve anxiety, be a good reading buddy.

Story, photos and video by Jo Mathis/AAPS District News Editor

After much anticipation, Abbot Elementary’s new therapy dog—an amiable hypoallergenic bernedoodle named Star—showed up for her first day of school.

It’s safe to say she was a hit.

During several small assemblies, students were introduced to Star, who sat on stage with her trainer, looking over her new friends sitting on the floor.

“She’s here to work,” said Principal Pam Sica, when introducing the dog to the students. Sica explained that Star’s job is basic: Help the students feel comfortable and calm.

Star is a year-old Bernese Mountain Dog-standard poodle mix, which makes her a bernedoodle. The one-year-old has been trained since the age of eight weeks by Greg Lambart of The Up N Up Pup in Clinton Township, whose main objective was to make sure she is gentle, calm, and great with kids. Star recently moved in with her handler, second grade teacher, Kathleen Briggs.

Karen Storey, the teacher that started the therapy dog program in Brighton, helped Sica along the way.

From now on, Briggs will bring Star to school every day, where she will visit classrooms, taking her seat in her own bed in the back of the room.

Star is expected to be read to during reading time and she may be brought into some situations to have a calming effect on an anxious student.

Star makes a new friend.

Sica said she began to consider adding a therapy dog to Abbot when her son would often return from a day at school in Brighton and talk about the therapy dog that visited his classroom. The Brighton School District has a therapy dog in each school.

Star was donated by Mountain Doodles outside Lake Orion. The Ann Arbor PTO Thrift Shop paid for her training.

Star quickly got comfortable.

Star is AAPS’ first therapy dog.

“Looking at the anxiety that students are facing these days and the trauma that some students have been through in their lives had us looking at ways we can support them other than in typical ways,” said Sica. “Through talking with the person in Brighton who started their program, I started putting into motion getting Star here.”

One part of the building that’s understandably off limits to Star: the lunchroom. She’s not allowed to have any “people food.”

Sica said Star got more and more comfortable throughout the day.

“Students and staff were very excited to have Star in the building,” she said.

Superintendent Jeanice Swift said the district is excited for Star to join the Abbot team to support students and staff facing emotional challenges.

“She will also serve as a great learning tool for the district at large,” she said. “Many of our Ann Arbor Public Schools have had therapy dogs visit, but we hope Star can serve as a proof of concept, better informing the district of the challenges and opportunities that arise from having a therapy dog in the school on a full-time basis.”

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