Williamson County Schools’ only therapy dog showing positive results among students

Dec 4, 2023

WILLIAMSON COUNTY, Tenn. (WKRN) — Between bullying, school lockdowns, and peer pressure, it’s often stressful to be a student in the modern world. To combat these stressors, Williamson County has a therapy dog pilot program.

News 2’s Andy Cordan first reported on this program in January when it just started and the dog and handler were training together.

Then, on Friday, Dec. 1, Cordan went back to Edmondson Elementary, where Bolo works 90% of the time.

Bolo, a 2-year-old Lagotto Romangnolo — also known as an Italian truffle hunting dog — and his partner, Williamson County Sgt. Jacob Morley, now routinely walk the hallways of the elementary school in Brentwood.

As soon as Bolo entered Darlene Shelton’s third grade class on Friday, embracing the holiday spirit by sporting reindeer antlers, any potential stress evaporated and was quickly replaced by smiles and eagerness to pet the soft and cuddly four-legged therapist.

“He’s the best dog ever,” students said as they showered Bolo with love.

There are a number of studies that show a therapy dog in a school setting can help anxious kids better cope with peer pressure, academic demands, and even problems at home.

In addition, some research demonstrates the presence of a dog in a classroom can promote positive moods. A University of California study shows it even increases reading productivity by 12% to 30%.

According to Bolo’s handler, he’s seen the benefits first hand.

“On occasion, the counselors will come to the office, and sometimes when the kids having a hard time, maybe they need a little bit of time to spend with Bolo, makes them feel better,” Morley said.

Shelton, who has been teaching for 30 years, has also noticed a difference.

“There’s so many issues; there’s so many, like, anxiety with some of the children, about whether it’s a test or whether it’s a friend issue, and I think just having Bolo, even to rub, just to be there, I feel like…it’s such a calming effect for all of them,” Shelton explained.

Principal Trent Satterfield said this 2-year-old therapy dog has made a huge difference.

“Kids go through a variety of different things, have anxiety for different reasons,” Satterfield told News 2. “You don’t know what’s happening in their homes, and so when they’re at school and they see Bolo and they’re able to sit with him and pet him, it just brings a sense of comfort to them, a sense of safety that they really need.”

However, the real truth comes right from the kids themselves.

“I know he’s cute and sweet, but when you guys are feeling kind of down or blah, does he kind of make you happier?” Cordan asked Shelton’s students.

They responded with a resounding YES.

“Because he’s big and fluffy,” one girl added.

Multiple kids told Cordan that if they’ve had a bad day and they pet Bolo, they feel better and they feel happy.

“He’s really sweet and he calms me down when I pet him,” one boy said.

Ali Hemyari, the CEO of Nashville K-9, trained Bolo for the Williamson County Sheriff’s Office to use as part of the school district’s therapy dog pilot program.

“So the original plan was to roll out a pilot program in the school system in Williamson County to see what type of positive impact it would have on the kids and the staff daily, and this just validates,” Hemyari said. “We are nine to 10 months into this program and the dog is making a fantastic impact on the day-to-day routine of kids.”

So far, Bolo is the only dog in Williamson County’s therapy dog kennel, but school officials told News 2 that the positive results have led to some discussions as to whether more therapy dogs would be beneficial.