Monday, February 27, 2012

Should Iowa school allow kids to chase Gracie the 'comfort dog’? Do NOT try this at home (opinion)

Our foster pooch Kali loves kids, but would she tolerate being chased by a mob of them? We'd never ask her to.
Gracie, a golden retriever who works as a “comfort dog” for young students in an Iowa school, looks like about the mildest-mannered pooch you’ll ever see. But watching a CNN video of a dozen or more of those children chasing her around a gymnasium made my hair stand on end.

To me Gracie seemed a bit unsure about the romp at Trinity Lutheran Church and School, licking her lips and glancing around a little nervously. On the other hand, for all I know she might have been thoroughly enjoying herself. Yet a few questions troubled me.

Before I get to that list, I'll say that if you ask me, every school should have a comfort dog, not only to help students cope with disappointments and frustrations, as does Gracie, according to the CNN report. I’d love to see it go a step further, so that dogs assist in all youngsters’ humane education, teaching the importance of proper respect and care for our fellow earthlings.

Even better, wouldn’t it be something if such comfort dogs could be formerly homeless pooches who were carefully and lovingly selected, adopted, and nurtured for that work?

In any case, the Trinity school, as well as Lutheran Church Charities (LCC), which runs the K-9 Parish Comfort Dog program, deserve commendation for their innovative service that provides canine companions to enrich students’ and parishioners’ lives.

“A dog is a friend who brings a calming influence,” states the program’s Facebook page, “allowing people to open up their hearts and receive help for what is affecting them.”


Now for my questions:

- Is there a responsible adult nearby at all times to make sure the kids, who are understandably high-energy, don’t intimidate or jostle Gracie during those chases and other activities?

- Is someone on hand to ensure the kids never overburden or crowd Gracie with unwelcome attention?

- Does Gracie get plenty of “down” time away from her duties?

- Do the adults as well as the children keep in mind that Gracie is neither a toy nor a tool, but a sensitive and intelligent individual with needs and rights of her own?

- Most troubling, will the CNN video indicate to millions of viewers that it’s perfectly fine to let a bunch of kids chase a dog? Will this scene be repeated in homes where the dogs turn out to be less mellow than Gracie? Will it lead to unpleasant or even disastrous encounters?

Asking too much of dogs?

A dog who is easy-going and tolerant of attention from folks of all ages throughout his life can suddenly change if he’s placed in a situation he perceives as threatening—for example being chased by several shrieking humans. Something like that might be too much to ask, and his reaction might be to defend himself.

Images that flash into my head are maulings for the kids, which of course would be followed by the dog paying the highest price, as dogs usually do in such cases—impoundment and a death sentence.

Go ahead, call me a worrywart. I know I’m borrowing trouble. But I’ve seen a few too many of the tragic results of humans failing to respect other animals’ reasonable limits.

All that said, I reiterate kudos to the Trinity school, to LCC, and most of all to Gracie herself, for being such a great sport and giving abundant love and solace to “her” kids.

She’s a better gal than me, that’s for sure. If I were in her paws, one chase like that and I’d be done. I’d stop running, whip around, and snap snap snap. Then there'd be stitches for my pursuers and courtesy accommodations at the local animal shelter for grumpy me.

More power to ya, sweet Gracie, for putting up with us humans.

Now you’ve heard my opinion on this question. What’s yours? Courteous comments are always welcome.

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