There’s a four-legged staff member at Ralston High School and her job is to offer support to those who need it.
Ellie is a golden retriever that has served as the RHS therapy dog for the past five years. From helping students calm down to spreading smiles to all who pet her, she takes her job seriously.
Jan Duren, a special education teacher at RHS, got Ellie when she was just six weeks old. After seeing her dog’s calm temperament, Duren knew she wanted to get her certified as a therapy dog.
“I’ve seen other people with therapy dogs and I’ve always wanted to do it and I’ve always loved goldies,” Duren said.
Ellie is with Duren throughout the day. When Duren is teaching, Ellie can be found laying by her side or sitting next to a student.
Duren even allows students to lay next to Ellie in class if they are having a rough day.
“I’m OK with that. It just really depends on if that student is having a tough day and needs a break,” she said.
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“The kids I work with sometimes have challenges that they just don’t know how to get the words out and she’s the one who helps. They don’t even need to get the words out, they just need to pet her.”
Ellie spends two or three days a week at the school, and the days Ellie is left home, she’s not happy.
In the morning, Duren said, Ellie waits by the car eager to get to work.
“If I don’t bring her to work on a particular day that she thinks she’s coming in, she’ll pout,” Duren said.
Another part of Ellie’s job is to help in the counseling office when needed.
“When a kid has a tough day in the classroom, no one else can say anything to that particular student, but she will be right there and that student will calm down,” Duren said.
During Duren’s planning period, she and Ellie roam the halls and visit other classrooms.
When students and staff see her, Duren said, they smile and become visibly happier.
“Everyone is just a lot more relaxed and it takes that stress away,” she said.
Students often thank Duren and say, “I needed that,” after petting Ellie.
“Sometimes they don’t say anything, but I can see their relief,” Duren said.
When Ellie goes to the office, Duren said staff members shower her with affection.
“We don’t often leave the office because she gets stuck up here,” Duren said. “Everyone likes to pet her and get some puppy love.”
Whether she’s walking around with her favorite toy squirrel in her mouth or loving on a student who needs a little extra support, Duren said she enjoys working next to her best friend.
“I think she brings a calm to the school,” she said. “It’s just fun to watch her work.”
To Duren, there’s nothing more rewarding than watching Ellie help students throughout the school day.
“I cannot thank this dog enough for what she has done for people in this building,” she said.