What’s better than having a dog come visit and lay down with you while you read a book? At school? Meet Jolie, the resident therapy dog. Jolie visits with the children. Spending time listening to them read her books at Wells Elementary school.

Two years ago, Jennifer Neal brought Jolie home to be the family pet. One thing lead to another, and she, along with her daughter, 12-year old daughter Megan, began taking Jolie to Tri-State K9 University in Evansville, Ind. to begin therapy dog training in the K9 Angels Therapy Dog program with trainers Nat and Karissa.

Jolie is a big, beautiful, black two-and-a half-year old Labrador Great Dane mix. She is full of energy and loves to run, catching her balls and frisbee in the mornings. Jennifer gets to school early, so she can spend time outside with Jolie before the school day begins. It’s a way for her to “…get her energy out,” she mentioned. Jennifer then has to put the balls and frisbee up high so Jolie doesn’t see them, “…because, you know. She’ll want to play,” Jennifer revealed.

Jolie started her training last year, and worked her way through several group classes that Tri-State K9 University offers. Jennifer explained that “each level was about [five to] seven weeks long, then there was a three…a few weeks…break before the next [one].” According to their website, some of the things Jolie, Jennifer and Megan had to go through were dog psychology, manners, energy control, socialization, leash control in the classroom, and many, many others to help Jolie become a certified K9 Angels Therapy Dog.

Her training also included how not to react to crowds, how to react; or in this case, not react, when people (especially children) just reach out and pet her. She was tested at Menards, where she had to lay down by the door and not move or react to all the people coming in and out. Jennifer said, “she had to stay there for three minutes.”

Jennifer mentioned that Jolie “…train[ed] with service dogs, right beside them,” while they got their initial training. She felt Jolie received the same training as a service dog and an emotional support dog does through Tri-State K9 University. Their website states their aim is to help the pet and owner “…help other people heal by bringing smiles and joy to their lives!”

During her training, Jolie took and passed the American Kennel Club Canine Good Citizen test and Urban Canine Good Citizen, and also received AKC Community Canine℠ Title. Jolie passed her K9 Angels Therapy Dog Test on Dec. 6., received an identification card and bandana identifying her as a therapy dog. Annual retesting is required to maintain certification as a therapy dog.

When Jolie is at school, she has been spending time reading with the children. Jennifer felt this was meeting a huge need within the school. “They don’t feel judged, [Jolie] isn’t going to tell them they pronounced a word wrong,” Jennifer shared. The children sit with Jolie, petting her, reading aloud to practice their reading, or just to relax. “They children will do more when she’s around,” said Jennifer. “She’s a stress relief. Even some of the teachers come in on breaks, too.” “Some kids even take off their Band-Aids, just so they can stop by for a quick visit,” Jennifer beamed, recalling a student who had just come by looking for a replacement Band-Aid.

Jolie and Jennifer also do “drive-bys,” where Jennifer and Jolie do quick visits in classrooms. Jennifer expects that those will increase in both time and occurrences once school resumes after the winter break. “It’s been a little hard, leading up to the break,” Jennifer explained.

While explaining about the benefits of having Jolie at Wells, Jennifer recalled that one thing Jolie is especially good at is deescalating situations. On occasion, when kids might be upset or stressed out, Jolie visits with the child (or children), and really helps them “…re-focus, or even to talk things out,” said Jennifer.

Jolie’s intensive training at Tri-State K9 University might be over, but Jennifer said they are still working on new commands and honing her already-acquired skills, “’park it,’ is the command we’ve been working on.” Essentially, when Jennifer tells Jolie to “park it,” Jolie is supposed to go into the office and lay on her mat and stay. “It’s a work in progress,” Jennifer confessed.

In April 2008, American Veterinarian published an article about a study the journal Stress and Health conducted, stating, “new research reinforces that facetime with man’s best friend can actually enhance student wellness.” "Our findings suggest that therapy dog sessions have a measurable, positive effect on the well-being of [university] students, particularly on stress reduction and feelings of negativity,” Emma Ward-Griffin, the study's lead author and research assistant in the University of British Columbia department of psychology, said.

Jolie has received all positive reactions; from the students, all the staff, Wells Elementary Principal Levi Johnson and the administration, according to Jennifer. “It has all worked out,” she said. After winter break, the students at Wells Elementary should expect to have more time with Jolie, and see her around often. Megan, a 7th grader at Wells Elementary, loves spending time with Jolie. Now she’ll get to share her even more with the other students.