Original Article: https://lhslance.org/2019/features/go-team-therapy-dogs-team-up-with-learning-for-life-students-to-make-school-less-stressful/

When most people think of “trading cards,” they think of the dusty old shoe box in their dad’s closet, filled with old baseball cards from his childhood. While this is the stereotype, “GO TEAM Therapy Dogs” is changing the image of trading cards with collectible cards featuring their team of therapy dogs.  The trading cards are just one adorable part of the therapy dog visit.

On December 10, three GO TEAM therapy dogs visited the Learning for Life classroom: Giuseppe, Welton and Zeke. The students had been anticipating the dogs’ arrival as they visit once a month.

Zeke, Guiseppe and Welton arrived at 8:15 a.m. dressed in Christmas sweaters, jingle bells and antler headbands. The dogs stayed for about 45 minutes, long enough for the Learning for Life students to get a well-deserved break from their school work. The students also made their own ugly sweaters for the festive occasion. 

Whenever they visit, the handlers bring their trading cards to give to students.  In addition to an irresistible photo on the front, the back features the dogs’ character traits. Zeke is a Labrador/Shepherd mix and likes “going anywhere in the car, tug of war, cuddling, chasing squirrels and bunnies, fetching logs, swimming and balls!” 

Guiseppe’s, Zeke’s and Welton’s GO TEAM Trading Cards.

Each GO TEAM trading card features a picture of the dog on the front with their name. The back of the card lists the dogs name, breed, gender, date of birth, handlers, titles, likes and their Facebook group. The card also lists at the bottom their state team, in this case, Team Maryland.

GO TEAM Therapy Dogs is a nonprofit organization dedicated to building a team of “well-trained certified therapy dogs in programs that provide comfort and caring through a canine-human bond.” GO TEAM works in states across the United States, including Hawaii, Alaska, Puerto Rico and even has an international team in South Korea.

In order for a handler and dog to become a part of the GO TEAM, they must pass a “rigorous” two-day program. The program includes training at different venues to expose the dogs to real-life situations. Dogs and handlers must also meet many requirements before registering for the program.

Freshman Alina Partch said the dogs are her favorite. “Just loving on them and cuddling on them. Guiseppi is my favorite. They make me really happy and calm.”

Sophomore Jimmy Clements said, “They are so nice. They are making me happy!” Clements’ favorite part of having the therapy dogs in class is being able to play with them.

Pam Glatfelter, Zeke’s handler, is a speech pathologist who has children in the Learning for Life Program at Oakdale Middle School. Glatfelter decided to train Zeke not only because of her profession, but also because of her children’s unique needs. 

Glatfelter said training dogs is not difficult.  “Not really, except for Zeke. He was not a nice dog when we got him, so he was very dog and people reactive. It took a lot of training and time to get him beyond that.” 

Her advice to others trying to train therapy dogs is “If you really want it, you can do it. It just takes time and effort. It doesn’t always come naturally for everyone.”

Joe Baldi, Guiseppe’s handler, decided to train therapy dogs after he retired so he could give back to the community. Baldi agrees with Glatfelter that training therapy dogs is not as difficult as it seems. Giuseppe is a naturally calm dog.  “The training is really basic commands: to sit, to stay, to come, and to keep them under control. He is very friendly with other dogs and friendly with people,” said Baldi.

Baldi says his favorite part is having “days like today when we are out with people and the smiles we see from people when they see the dogs.”

Ms. P. Dawn Aburto, the Special Education Instructional Assistant, sees the visits from therapy dogs as a positive experience for her students. “The therapy dogs are an amazing experience for our students. The students look forward to the therapy dogs’ visit every month.  The dogs provide comfort and relaxation for the students. It is a stress free time when the dogs come,” said Aburto.

With high school comes a lot of stress. All students experience it. While therapy may seem like a very intimidating and scary thing, canine friends, like the dogs in GO TEAM, make getting help a lot easier.

You can contact the Frederick Team through their Facebook, @goteamtherapydogsfrederick.