For Spanish teacher Elizabeth Wagner, a service dog is a gateway to independence, but its positive impacts extend throughout the whole school community.
When Wagner and her service dog, CLAUDE, first met in December of 2017, there was an instant connection.
“It was kind of obvious that CLAUDE and I were going to get paired together,” said Wagner. “It was a perfect match, personality-wise and everything. We just kind of clicked and made sense.”
CLAUDE works as mobility assistance, picking things up for her and opening doors. If Wagner needs assistance in walking up stairs, she can transfer some of her weight to CLAUDE in a move called “brace.”
“He’s multi-talented,” said Wagner.
CLAUDE provides Wagner with the independence to go about her day without fear. Without him, daily activities that most people give little thought to, such as running errands or going to work, would be much more difficult.
The faculty and administration at Riverside were not discouraged by any possible challenges and welcomed both CLAUDE and Wagner with open arms.
According to Wagner, no specific accommodations were required. CLAUDE was trained for the classroom. He is able to sit for hours and goes with Wagner wherever she is needed. However, she has full confidence that if any changes were necessary, the school would be willing to work with her.
Students and staff both think CLAUDE is a positive addition to the Riverside community. Kids flock to the intersection where Wagner is posted for lunch duty on Fridays. The site of CLAUDE causes many to smile.
“It can turn your day around to walk in and you see him and he’s wagging his tail and smiling and he’s happy to see you,” said Wagner.
Many students have formed bonds with CLAUDE and feel calm when he is in the room.
“He tends to redirect the people that need to be redirected,” Wagner said.
As long as her students are completing their work, she encourages them to interact with CLAUDE when she doesn’t need him.
In the halls, CLAUDE provides an icebreaker and sparks conversation between Wagner and students.
Although Wagner is happy for students and staff to interact with CLAUDE, she asks that they clear it with her first. She appreciates when people ask permission to pet him.
“It always catches me off guard whenever somebody just automatically starts petting or playing with him,” she said. “He is technically a working dog, so he does have things that he’s doing, and you can’t treat him like a pet. The biggest thing is being respectful of the fact that he is not a pet.”
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