There’s a new face wandering the halls of Farmingville Elementary School, out to lend kids a helping hand. Er, make that helping paw.
Her name is Venti, a three-year-old black labrador from Guiding Eyes for the Blind — a nonprofit that breeds and trains seeing eye dogs for the blind.
When she’s not palling-around with her foster mom — Principal Susan Gately, Venti serves as an emotional support dog for the roughly 300 kids who call Farmingville home.
“She’s a motivator, so if a child really wants to spend time with the dog — if a child is struggling with reading or math — once they succeed they can come down and spend time with Venti,” said Gately.
She’s no ordinary housepet.
According to Gately, all the dogs bred by Guiding Eyes go through a training regime for their first 16 months with their foster owners.
“They are absolutely trained and attuned to the needs of others,” Gately said.
The dogs then go through a rigorous selection process to determine which will move on to be service animals, or will be used for breeding a new generation of service dogs — which is Venti’s job.
Last year, the whole school was involved in naming Venti’s litter of pups, which all received names that began with the letter “L,” as part of the program’s naming convention.
What about the dogs that don’t make the cut?
Gately said they get adopted out to families.
It’s not the first time the schools have tried having a four-legged shoulder for kids to lean on.
A Farmingville parent brought in Riley, a therapy dog for kids to meet with, last year.
The school also had a third dog visit from ROAR to help kids practice reading aloud — man’s best friend, makes a good listener it turns out.
The high school has also had success with providing comfort dogs for students during exams, said Ridgefield High Principal Dr. Stacey Gross. She started the program several years ago, after one of the school’s students was killed.
“It’s actually one of the best things I’ve ever done with crisis planning,” Gross told The Press.
Since then, the school has invited one or two dogs back during exams to helped stressed out students decompress and stay focused.
“I don’t know of any studies that have been done on this, but I do know colleges across the country bring therapy dogs in during exam time,” said Gately.
Venti also helps with discipline.
Instead of having kids come and sit in the principal’s office, Gately said, she can take the dog for a walk with a student having trouble in class.
Sort of a brain-reset? “It’s a heart reset, truly,” Gately emphasized. It’s not unusual for teachers to pop in and visit the labrador-in-residence. “It’s an icebreaker no matter who you are.”
Call her the unofficial school mascot.
“She’s just a part of the school community,” Gately said.