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Meet our furriest new grant - FERRIS!

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Article taken from the Arlingtonian
BY CALLIA PETERSON, ’22 AND MATTHEW DORON, ’23.

A new furry face will be joining the UAHS community this year. Based with intervention specialist Kim Wilson on the first floor of the academic wing, Ferris, a one-year-old golden retriever, will be available for students to pet and interact with, and will serve as a way for students with disabilities to connect with more of their peers.

As a facility dog, Ferris will be available to students that want to interact with him and will be used in Wilson’s classroom for instruction. He is still undergoing onsite training, and his availability to the student body will widen by the end of his training. Ferris will also eventually be a certified therapy dog. However, he will not function as a therapy dog in the school.

“He will be used in my class for instruction in a whole lot of different areas that my students are learning in…One of the hopes for my students is that it’s going to improve communication and initiation,” Wilson said. “[O]ur primary goal was that he’s going to be a bridge between students with disabilities and [able-bodied] students, and [be] a meaningful thing that my students can be in charge of in the building that other people look up to.” 

Two years ago, Wilson proposed the idea of having a therapy dog assist her students “through the lens of special education”, and the idea was widely supported by the staff. She began connecting with service dog organizations and was supposed to be placed with a dog in the summer of 2020, but the coronavirus pandemic and online learning stalled her project. Eventually, Wilson was given a grant from the UA Education Foundation and got approved to move forward with the service dog organization last spring.  In July, Wilson was placed with Ferris through a Michigan-based organization called Paws With a Cause that trains service dogs for a variety of tasks, from personal support to search and rescue.

“[The organization said Ferris] is unable to be placed as a one-on-one service dog because he has hip dysplasia and he will have to retire early. It’s not that he can’t do the work, it’s that if he’s placed one-on-one with an individual, that individual is relying on him and he can’t retire early. So he’s sort of a failed service dog, but he didn’t fail [because of] his behavior, it was a medical concern,” Wilson said.

Ferris is still training and will not be fully available to the general student body for several weeks. By the end of his training, Wilson said Ferris will be available during certain periods of the day and potentially lunch in the northwest common area of the building.

She emphasized that Ferris is the building’s facility dog, so students can interact with him differently than they would with a personal service dog.

“We will be working on some guidelines and presenting that information to students, you know, teaching them to approach him in a calm manner. He gets excited if you get excited, so we will work on getting that information to students. [However], he’s different [from] a service dog. You can pet him anytime,” Wilson said. “If students think he’s cute, they can go ahead and give him a scratch on the head, it’s fine.”

Wilson said Ferris is able to engage with all students, but that they are cognizant of the students who do not like dogs or cannot be around dogs for medical reasons, such as allergies. Thus, there will be parts of the building and certain classrooms Ferris is not allowed in so that people do not have to be near him.

Ultimately, Ferris is at UAHS to be a calming presence for students. 

“Any time anyone sees him and they want to reach out and pet him or say ‘hi’, he’s always available,” Wilson said.

Read more from UA High School's student produced news publication.  Click below.

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