Celebrating One Year with our Therapy Dog

Celebrating One Year with our Therapy Dog
Posted on 03/15/2023
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On March 13, 2023 the Gifford School celebrated the first year of its youngest staff member, a therapy dog, Griffin. While he’s not exactly on the payroll, Griff works at the school every day bringing joy to kids and staff alike. Joy might not sound like a job description, but it’s quite evident that Griffin is truly a working dog and community connector, helping staff and students build relationships through their

interactions with him.

Kristi Penman, Gifford’s Admissions Director and 
Griff’s caretaker, coordinates his schedule with educators and clinicians throughout the school. Julia Williams, a Social Skills Coach and one of Griff’s handlers, said that Griffin is really helpful in getting the students comfortable enough to participate in conversation exercises, talk about their social deficits, and even improve their understanding of body language by observing Griffin and what he’s trying to communicate. Julie Campbell, Middle School Head Teacher, loves seeing Griffin support students through academic activities. “Some of our students have a hard time staying in class, but with Griff there, they are able to manage their anxiety better and even perhaps take on some challenges. He can even be an inspiration for writing, serving as a subject or a link to a related topic.”

According to the Alliance for Therapy Dogs, there are 
well-established benefits associated with pet therapy including improved self-esteem, reduced depression and anxiety, and improved social skills and empathy. These are precisely the areas in which Gifford students struggle.

Referred by their public school districts from over 65 
towns and cities throughout Massachusetts, Gifford students sometimes ride the bus for over an hour to get here. Zoe H., a high school student shared, “After a long van ride in the morning, it makes my day to see Griffin waiting outside when I get to school.” 

Nathen B. a lower school student said that “Griffin helps me to calm down, plus he’s cuteness overload!”

Kristi Penman worked with Kingtimber 
Bernedoodles, a small family owned Bernedoodle breeder in New Hampshire to select a puppy with the right temperament and hypoallergenic coat to minimize the chance of students with allergies having a reaction. “They were very thoughtful about pairing us with the right dog,” said Kristi. His first year has been mostly about training, and now that he is one year into his “tenure,” the school could not be more pleased about Griffin’s job performance. They will definitely be renewing his contract for next year. 

The Gifford School, located in Weston, MA is a therapeutic day school providing educational services in a clinical milieu to students with special academic, behavioral, and emotional needs so that they may achieve their full potential. Griffin was named after our school mascot, the mythical and legendary gryphon.