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Orion heads back to Coquitlam school on Sept. 3
Thousands of students will be heading back to class next Tuesday with either smiles or frowns, depending on their emotions.
But one member of the Como Lake middle school community will be wagging his tale.
Orion, a four-year-old yellow lab, will be back in Lindsay Hill's Grade 6/7 class wearing a bright blue and yellow service coat. Although the pooch is trained by the Pacific Assistance Dog Society (PADS) to be calm and respectful, Orion is expected to wriggle with excitement when it gets into the classroom to greet the kids.
There may also be the occasional lick when the students grab him in a bear hug but Hill said she expects a joyful reunion when Orion returns to her classroom for a second year.
"I do know there will be a lot of kids who consciously seek him out," said Lindsay. In fact, she said, some students have been asking about him all summer.
Orion is the result of a collaboration between Hill, School District 43 and PADS, which grew out of Hill's passion to have a dog in the classroom to teach social and emotional learning to students. Research has shown that specially trained dogs such as Orion can teach students to regulate their behaviour because the canine has to work to control its behaviour in the classroom.
Hill said students understand that when Orion wears its jacket and sits calmly beside their desk, it's working at staying calm even though a middle-school environment would be as exciting to the dog as Disneyland would be to a child.
Orion will be shared with all four of HIll's Grade 6/7 classes as well as other students in the school, and possibly other elementary schools because of lessons specially designed to teach kids about self-regulation, compassion, tolerance and pet care.
"Through Orion, the students learn to be nonjudgmental and welcoming," Hill explained.
Students vie to have Orion sit by their desks, take turns walking the pooch during lunch and cuddle next to him during breaks or quiet reading. Even students who are uncomfortable with dogs will usually bond with Orion after a few months of respectful distance and settling in.
But, like any kid, Orion can't sit still all the time. Orion has a few toys and a water dish in the classroom, and two beds are provided, one under Hill's desk, another elsewhere in the classroom, and the pooch can even sit in a crate in a no-go room for students when it needs time out.
It's hard work for the dog to be in the calm and relaxed "down" position for a long period of time. What looks like a resting pooch to most people is actually Orion fulfilling its master's wishes. When the working jacket is off, Orion returns to the exuberant behaviour of a "four-year-old dog going on six months," Lindsay said, noting it likes to play tug of war and run after a ball.
But when fun time is over, the jacket goes on again — the one that denotes a Canine Assisted Intervention Dog — and Orion heads back to class, a calm, reassuring presence to the students.