While never officially on the RISE Learning Center staff, Asha played a vital role in the development of the school’s mentally and physically challenged students, who performed better for her than they did for any of their teachers.
And here’s the kicker: Asha is a therapy dog.
A golden retriever/black Labrador mix, Asha had been a mainstay at the school for the past 10 years until retiring May 28. Although her workload had diminished from five days a week for eight years to only once a week this year because of escalating problems with arthritis, Asha remained true to her calling.
RISE teacher Monica Lund, who adopted Asha and had her trained at the Rockville Correctional Therapy through a grant from the Perry Township Education Foundation, said it was hard to cope with Asha retiring. “I had to make some major decisions as to what was best for her health, but the arthritis was worsening. She was pretty exhausted at the end of the day. Ten years is a long service life for a dog.”
The Indiana Canine Assistance Network, the certifying agency for therapy dogs, had previously recommended retirement, but Lund wasn’t in agreement then.
When she cut back Asha’s schedule to three days a week during the 2012-13 academic year, there was definitely an adjustment period.
“She had a major attitude when I would leave without her,” said Lund. “There are still mornings that she gives me this look that says, ‘Why are you leaving without me?’ ”
Asha played a key role in helping students to develop their reading, fine motor and gross motor skills.
While some students felt ill at ease when reading to their peers, they felt quite comfortable perusing to Asha. And since they were being recorded – unknown to them – their teachers could evaluate their progress.
The students’ fine motor skills were enhanced when they groomed and petted her. As for students who used wheelchairs but could walk with adaptive devices or if tethered, Asha pulled them forward. “It’s great to see the children smile when they realize they are making progress, Lund said. “It has been a very rewarding experience.
“It’s nice to know that man’s best friend can help us with our many problems,” said Lund, who added that she was always amazed how students performed so much better when they knew their reward would be to spend time with Asha, whether it be taking her outside to play, walking the hallways with her or giving her a treat. “I don’t know why, but kids loved to give her treats.”
A hit with everyone at the school, Asha didn’t have much down time during the day. When not being used in Lund’s class of high school transitioning students, she was in demand by other teachers. And students from other classrooms loved going to Lund’s room to get the beloved therapy dog.
Asha also made the rounds at other Perry Township schools, where she made an array of presentations.
“She has unconditional love for everyone,” said Lund. “There is not a person or animal that she doesn’t love and approach on a friendly basis. When the kids pull her ears or step on her toes, she doesn’t show any anger or lash out.
“She had free reign of the school for the past 10 years. The staff was outstanding in incorporating Asha into the school life.
Away from the learning center, Asha is a wonderful pet, said Lund, who earned her bachelor’s and master’s degrees from the University of Indianapolis and IUPUI, respectively. Even with her arthritis, she loves to chase squirrels and rabbits along the fence line. “She doesn’t need a lot, but she likes a lot of attention.” It appears that some serious rest and relaxation is in store for Asha.
Lund and her husband, Chad, a manager of an IT staffing company, love to ride their bicycles all over the city and visit their families in northern Indiana.
Mrs. Lund, an avid runner, is not considering getting another therapy dog as long as Asha is around. And since it appears that no one else at the school is stepping up, Rise will be without a therapy dog when school resumes in late July.
Lund spent several months preparing students for the reality that Asha won’t be around anymore. “I told them that Asha wouldn’t be returning because she’s retiring like teachers.”
The retirement party was a festive affair, but students and teachers had a tough time saying good-bye to their furry friend.
“It was a sad but good day,” said Mrs. Lund.