New Neary staff member: Meet Tucker

by beth on January 20, 2017

Post image for New Neary staff member: Meet Tucker

Above: The new hire at Neary is an 8 year old chocolate lab (image cropped from contributed photo)

Parents of fourth and fifth grade Neary students were informed this week about an unusual new member of the school staff. He’s one that will bring a smile to most students’ faces. (Just looking at his photo puts on on mine.)

School Psychologist Jennifer Matthews has been working with her dog Tucker to be certified as a therapy dog team. Her letter explains:

At Neary, Tucker may be working with a variety of students, including English Language Learners, Special Education students, reluctant readers, and many others. He and I will be working with students individually and in small groups.

Therapy dogs are meant to ease stress, not create it. So, if allergy issues or a child’s fear of dogs are a concern for your family, you can contact the school to let them know you do not want your child to have contact.

Below is the full letter to parents with more details:

Dear Parents/Guardians:

I am writing to share an exciting new initiative we’re introducing at Neary. My dog, Tucker, an eight year-old chocolate lab, has been participating in therapy dog training through Bright Spot Therapy Dogs, Inc. ( Together, he and I are becoming a certified therapy dog team. The training process involved successful completion of a two-week therapy dog certification class, along with training in the public sector. He is beginning to come into school with me to formally integrate into our work at Neary. Along with his training, Tucker has had medical assessments and is current on all his vaccines.

Our current plan will bring Tucker into school once a week (Friday). We’ve put much thought and research into this, and have made plans to help our students understand the expectations for working around a therapy animal, and to make meaningful learning connections for the students with whom Tucker will be working.

Some background on the training facility and the benefits to schools include:

Bright Spot Therapy Dogs Mission Statement: Bright Spot Therapy Dogs, Inc. is a registered 501(c)(3) non-profit organization dedicated to placing well trained certified therapy dog teams in meaningful programs that provide comfort and caring through the human-canine bond. Our special volunteers serve in a wide variety of settings including hospitals, nursing homes, schools, libraries and other facilities where therapy dogs are needed.

Therapy dogs are not service dogs. The following comes from

To be clear… therapy dogs are not service dogs. Service dogs are dogs that are specially trained to perform specific tasks to help a person who has a disability. Therapy dogs work with their owners to help others.
“Service dogs have special access privileges in accompanying their owner in public places such as on planes or in restaurants. Therapy dogs do not have the same special access.”

-From the American Kennel Club “What is a Therapy Dog?”

All dogs are special. Therapy dogs are unique. Successful therapy dogs possess good manners but need to know more than sit, stay, and come. They require additional socialization to work despite constant distractions. They must appear receptive, confident, and steady in settings where most dogs never venture.

Petting a dog can reduce stress and anxiety, promote happiness, improve empathy, and calm students. Reading to a dog has been shown to improve fluency and boost confidence. Simply having a dog in a student’s presence while he/she is working can improve socialization and promote a calm and cooperative atmosphere. At Neary, Tucker may be working with a variety of students, including English Language Learners, Special Education students, reluctant readers, and many others. He and I will be working with students individually and in small groups.

We’ve created student guidelines to help everyone understand how to interact with Tucker:

  • Please ask before petting Tucker.
  • If there are already five (5) students around him in the hall, please wait your turn to pet Tucker.
  • If you are petting Tucker in the hall, please let others have a turn if they are waiting.
  • If Tucker is in the hall “working” with a student or students, please do not stop to pet him.
  • Please do not feed Tucker “people” food.
  • Please wash your hands after petting/spending time with Tucker. Others have allergies and we need to be careful and respectful.
  • If you have an idea about a way to incorporate Tucker into your learning, please talk to your teacher and Ms. Matthews, Mrs. Dimitrov, or Mrs. Valenti.

Tucker will be working with me in my office, and will be available, as needed. Please let us know if you do NOT want your child having contact with Tucker. Tucker may also be working in the hallways at times, so it is important for all students to understand our guidelines, and to gauge their individual comfort levels with a dog as well as any health issues (i.e. allergies). These guidelines have been discussed during Friday Farewell and will continue to be reinforced throughout the year.

Please feel free to contact me with any questions or concerns. I am also open to suggestions relative to your child’s interaction with Tucker; he might be a bright spot in a child’s day that could make a positive difference.

Thanks for your support.

Jennifer Matthews
School Psychologist

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