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Local dogs making difference

Theresa Flagstad and her poodle, Quincey, left, and Ann Jussero and her poodle, Journey, travel to local schools to provide therapy dog services to students. Angie Reinoehl/MDN

Therapy dogs Quincey and Journey, alongside their handlers Theresa Flagstad and Ann Jussero, provide comfort throughout the community. Together the dynamic-duos go into schools, nursing homes and hospitals to provide those in need with therapy dog services.

“It’s something I wanted to do when I retired and it’s been pretty rewarding,” Flagstad said.

Quincy and Journey frequent local schools to help students find calm amid stressful school days.

“There’ve been kids that had pretty significant meltdowns and they’ve been taken out of the classroom. Teachers have asked me to bring Quincy in and it’s immediate – instant. Kids’ anxiety comes down and they just relax. One little guy just relaxed and was ready to go back to the classroom almost right away. One of the teachers at Sunnyside said if she hadn’t been there on that particular day, that little guy would have been out of the classroom all day. He would not have relaxed and the anxiety would’ve kept building up,” Flagstad said.

Flagstad recounted an encounter she had last year when the counselor at Washington Elementary School asked Flagstad to meet with a group of troubled students.

“The counselor had three or four fifth-grade boys come in and afterwards she said, ‘This is the first time I ever saw the kindness in these kids,'” Flagstad said.

While in the schools, Jussero and Flagstad teach children proper dog manners, such as how to approach animals. They also educate students on topics such as who to call when they see a loose animal and positive reinforcement while training.

The two head the local Reading Education Assistance Dogs program, which encourages young readers to strengthen their skills by reading to therapy dogs.

Jussero and Flagstad also go to the Minot State University library during semester exam weeks to give studying students a break. Flagstad said a few years ago students were having a hard time getting home for Christmas break, so when students congregated in the library to sit with the therapy dogs, students started talking to each other and bonding when they otherwise would not have.

“It connected these people who had never been connected before,” Flagstad said.

Jussero and Flagstad are members of the Alliance of Therapy Dogs (ATD). ATD is a nonprofit, volunteer-based organization of therapy dog handlers and their dogs who facilitate animal-assisted activities such as visiting hospitals, schools or nursing homes. ATD provides testing, certification, registration, support and insurance for members who offer these services in their communities.

Jussero and Flagstad provide ATD testing for community members who want to certify their animals as therapy dogs.

Certification testing consists of three visits. The first meeting is temperament testing to see if the dogs are good around people and other dogs. If the testers don’t see any issues with temperament, two more supervised visits are required. The final two visits are required to occur in a medical facility as that is a frequent environment for therapy dogs to provide services.

Jussero said medical environments are a great testing setting because of all the different noises, smells, people and potentially upsetting events, such as fire alarms.

Jussero said lately she’s seeing a lot of teachers certifying their own animals so they can bring their dogs to school to help students.

The two said they hope to see an increase in therapy dog certifications, saying there is a one-time certification cost but the observations and testing are free.

Jussero and Flagstad are also charter members of the nonprofit dog training club, Action Agility. Action Agility is comprised of 14 trainers who provide low-cost obedience training classes for dogs and their handlers. In addition to obedience training they offer agility nosework and teamwork-based, enhanced rally training. This March, the club will be celebrating 25 years of training dogs in the Minot area.

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