Walter, a not quite two-year-old St. Bernard owned by Laurie and Brad Sherman, makes a visit with some students at Truman Public School. Laurie works at the school and has been bringing Walter in regularly over the past school year, training him as a therapy and comfort dog.
BY NIKKI MEYER
"I've known Walter ever since he was born," said Kayla Graplar, an 8th grade student at Truman Public School (TPS). "He is adorable. He is kind. He is loving... He helps kids that need help. I wish he could be here every day."
"It's like he knows when somebody's sad or when somebody needs him," agreed special education teacher Tina Raske.
When Laurie Sherman first brought Walter, her St. Bernard, to school he was small enough to carry around. Sherman, the Title 1 Math teacher at TPS, also helps coach track and field. She'd bring her puppy with her to practice, and occasionally he came to school for special events like the elementary Track and Field day.
And, of course, most everyone who met him fell in love with him. Students would ask Sherman to see him, to pet him, to hold him, and to have their picture taken with him. "The kids were always asking to have their pictures taken with him. So I figured they'd probably like to see them," Sherman said, referencing a section of wall outside the cafeteria that is lined with pictures of Walter and the students at school.
Sherman didn't start out with the intent of owning and training a therapy dog. When she brought Walter home in the spring of 2016 he joined Whiskey, a nine-year-old St. Bernard.
"I kind of learned from the first one," Sherman said. Whiskey wasn't as good with other people and animals as she would have liked. She said she wished she'd done more training with him. So when they brought home Walter, that was her goal—to get him more exposure to others.
The students at TPS were more than happy to help Sherman socialize Walter.
"It was Mrs. Shellum's idea," Sherman said, explaining how Walter came to be a regular part of the school. No longer a puppy—weighing in at solid 130 lbs, Walter now spends all day at school on Wednesdays and Fridays. Sherman logs his visits, and soon she will apply for his official Therapy Dog designation. Walter will also have to pass a skills test as part of the process.
Sherman and Raske have adjoining rooms on the Specialty Floor at TPS. On the days he goes to school, Walter is able to move freely between the two rooms. Sherman takes him out for a walk at lunch, and also takes him to visit various classrooms during the day. "I try to get to the elementary rooms especially. The kids love to just lay on him."
And that's what Walter is especially good at—being warm and fluffy and still and available. Walter exudes calm, a special trait for a dog that won't be two years old until March. He also seems to have a sort of sixth sense.
"It's like he knows what somebody's sad or needs him," Raske said. "At 7:30 this morning I came in and walked in the room and he was laying on the floor and he knew my day hadn't started out well and he was right there. There's lots of other days when I walk in the room that he lifts his head and he looks at me and he lays back down. But today, he knew was one of those days."
Raske continued, "It's the same way with kids. He senses when kids need him. We've had kids that really struggle with their emotions and getting their emotions under control and all it takes is for Ms. Sherman one time to bring Walter up next to the student and from then on it's like [Walter] can sense that about them."
When a student is struggling and Walter is around Raske said, "he'll get his nose in there to get their attention to try to bring them back down."
Sherman plans to continue to bring Walter to school on a regular basis. She has also contacted someone at Heartland Senior Living about the possibility of bringing Walter for visits this coming summer.
Sherman is happy with the way things have turned out with Walter. She feels he has been a great resource to have for the students at school. "We have kids that will say, 'I need a hug from Walter to make my day better.' It's really special."
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