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Millie the Therapy Dog treats Titans to smiles

Cloudia Tuzzio

Millie is a 7-year-old Golden Doodle owned by social studies teacher Mr. Raymond Keller and his family. Rather than have Millie lie around all day at home while Mr. Keller was at school, the family decided to have Millie trained as a therapy dog.

“We think our dog is wonderful,” Keller said. “She’s super calm, she loves people, and, being in education – this is my 27th year of teaching – I found that there’s been increased amounts of anxiety and depression among students … especially after COVID.”

“We had read the research on therapy dogs and what they do, and the benefits they can bring to people,” Keller explained. 

The idea of a therapy dog is based on the human-animal bond: the affection that dogs have for people and that people have for dogs. They help improve the health of others. Therapy dogs are meant to be touched, talked to and interacted with – unlike service dogs, which generally are not to be touched or disturbed when they are in public because they are individually trained to do work or perform tasks for the benefit of a specific person with a disability.

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Jasmine Forck, 12th, pets Millie the therapy dog near Mr. Ray Keller’s classroom door.

Keller first introduced Millie to the school in October with morning walks in the halls.

“My goal is to really try to get her out in the morning time, when students are kind of just waiting around for the bell to ring,” he said. “People who maybe were just focused on their phones, they saw the dog and their face just changed … and they seem to be happy all of a sudden. So that was really fun to see.”

Taking Millie into the classroom was Keller’s next challenge. “I was a little concerned,” he said.

“I didn’t know how she would do in the classroom, but so far she’s just been really good at that, too. She lays on her cot in the room and usually she sleeps. It is a government class,  so I tend to – that can have an effect on people, I think,” Keller joked. “But no, she’s pretty good. She doesn’t really do anything in the classroom, but when it’s a passing period, we walk around.” 

Keller made a Canva presentation to inform the student body about Millie. It gives a whole lot of information about how to behave around her and helps students know her better.

“I put a lot … in the Canva presentation, but I would say that she’s been trained to let you pet her, and she wants to be a pet. That’s why she’s here. So that’s the big thing: She’s a therapy dog, not a service dog,” he explained, adding: “It’d be really great if students didn’t feed her … especially, you know, she’s been looking around the floor for leftover Goldfish and Cheez-Its and stuff.” 

Click here to see Mr. Keller’s presentation introducing Millie

Cloudia Tuzzio

Principal Jeff Spilker said he supported the decision to invite Millie into the school as a therapy dog.

“I just think that she’s a really great add to our school,” Spilker said. “It can really fill a need for us in our building to have that type of therapy available to our students, and I just think that Millie continues to add to our positive culture here at Papio South.”

Junior Sophie Anderson, a student in Keller’s second-period AP Government class, said she and other students were very excited to hear there would be a new therapy dog.

“I know we had a service dog like a year before I joined the school, and I was waiting for another one,” Anderson said. “I obviously came right up to her and pet her. She is just very sweet, and she likes to interact with everybody. She’s, like, a very calm dog.”

Millie immediately put Anderson in a good mood. “I believe it’ll help people stay more calm in learning, and also, like, more positive in the mindset.”

Anderson said Millie’s kind heart can keep kids happy during the school day and more willing to do their work and stay invested.

“I get more excited to go to school because of her,” Anderson said. 

Junior Ben McClung, in Keller’s third-period AP Government class, also quickly established close ties with Millie. McClung said she’s a good addition to the school, helping students to not worry so much about school and to be able to relax while here.

“I feel like she brings a lot more energy to the class, really makes everybody kind of less stressed,” McClung said. “She puts a smile on people’s faces.” 

Cloudia Tuzzio

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    Carmen SandellNov 28, 2023 at 8:23 am

    I love the story you have written on Millie. I have lived with several therapy dogs and am able to say they are very loving dogs. I am proud of you Cloudia with your work–keep it up.