By Michele Cucinotta, DFC Coordinator, Barnegat Schools
Our therapy dog program began with a shitzhu named Tink at Lillian M. Dunfee Elementary School in 2016. Tink has been used for specific students for a variety of reasons, such as anxiety, developing communication skills, work on behavior problems, etc.
Tink, owned by Joann Fedorczyk of Barnegat, was trained as a therapy dog through Canine Good Citizenship (CGC) and the Therapy Dog Program. Winnie, a Maltese shitzhu mix, started out as a puppy following Tink’s lead for two years before Tink retired at age 14. Both worked in Dunfee until the pandemic shut them down on March 13, 2020.
Beginning in the 2021-22 school year, Winnie Wednesdays has had a huge impact on rehabilitating students for in-person learning and dealing with the stress that comes with the long-running pandemic. Additionally, we have expanded the program and Winnie now visits two schools in the district, and two more dogs have joined the program and visit five schools.
The program has been a huge success and has led to many positive outcomes for students. It helped discourage absenteeism and created a warm and friendly environment. Students and staff have really responded to the program; the boost they get from petting Winnie or just seeing her in the hallways has a lasting and exponential effect on morale in our schools.
Take it from Barnegat, every school should have a therapy dog like Winnie!