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Teacher pays $10K for a companion dog to help her special education needs students

ABC Health logoABC Health 17/06/2018

a boy and a dog sitting on a table © Provided by ABC Health A special education needs high school teacher has paid $10,000 out of her own pocket to buy a dog specially-trained to assist her students.

Amina Rand bought Hannah, a Saint Bernard trained to work in special education needs classrooms at Broome Senior High School in Western Australia.

It's been a long-held dream of Ms Rand's to have a companion dog in the classroom, but the cost has been a major challenge."In my last school they said no, because they [the dogs] can cost about $25,000. Well, that's the price I was given 10 years ago," Ms Rand said."So I decided to try to get a dog, and just train her."For $10,000, Ms Rand was able to purchase Hannah at six months of age, with basic training as a companion dog.

But when Hannah is not helping high school students with their education, she is continuing her own training with dog trainer Kim Sinclair-Ivey. "There are a lot of steps that this dog has to go through just to be a good canine citizen," Ms Sinclair-Ivey said. "And then we also added in the therapy needs of the children here in the classroom."

Dog helps students and staff

A companion dog can help special education needs students in a variety of ways. Just by being in the classroom, Hannah can lift the mood.

"Hannah reduces anxiety and stress, not only with my students, but also with my teaching assistants," Ms Rand said.

"Everyone smiles the minute Hannah comes in. Once their mood is lifted, we have a different outcome.

"Their learning outcomes change. They've got high expectations."

A companion dog also helps the special education needs students connect socially with the rest of the school.

"A lot of my students don't have many social skills, so at recess and lunch they're lost," Ms Rand said.

"Once they take Hannah around with them, it builds rapport with the other students and they've got a connection between the dog and themselves.

"A lot of the time, special needs students aren't accepted. We're not integrated, we're segregated, and here with Hannah, it integrates us."

Hannah is also being trained to detect when students are unwell, as some special needs students are unable to tell staff when they are sick.

Big and hungry, but calm

Saint Bernards are unusual in Australia's hot, dry north-west, having been bred as rescue dogs in the Swiss Alps.

But Hannah is handling the heat and much of her work is in air-conditioned classrooms.

She brings a calmness that is perfect for her role.

"They're big slugs," Ms Sinclair-Ivey said.

"They're really nice to work with. At this age, an eight-month-old, if we were working with a Labrador it would be spinning out."

As well as coming with a high purchase price, a Saint Bernard companion dog has high upkeep costs.

"Seven cups of dry food she eats a day, and a kilo of raw meat," Ms Rand said.

But Ms Rand has no regrets about making such a big commitment in time and money for her work in the classroom.

"It's a dream come true. It honestly is unbelievable, the difference in my students and the difference in my personality when Hannah comes in," Ms Rand said.

"I look at her and I just feel a sense of joy that I have started this and I have brought her into the classroom and I've changed the minds of my students."

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