Among the pitter patter of students’ feet in the halls of Gilmore Fine Arts roams a four-footed friend. Casey is a three-year-old shih tzu-yorkie mix who belongs to the school’s psychologist, Kelly Hoaglund-Zumstein.
“I always wanted to train one of my dogs to be a therapy dog, but none of the dogs I had in the past were a good fit,” said Hoaglund-Zumstein. “Along came Casey and he is a calm, relaxed guy who is well-behaved, easily-trained and typically quiet. He loves people, especially kids.”
Hoaglund-Zumstein and Casey went through the necessary training and became registered in January 2020. Then she got permission from the Racine Unified School District to start bringing Casey into Gilmore Fine Arts. Hoaglund-Zumstein says Casey was just getting used to spending a few days a week in the school when the pandemic hit. Since staff and students returned March 1, he’s reacclimating slowly but surely. She keeps a dog bed in her office for him to relax when he needs a break. For now, she’s just bringing Casey in on Wednesdays when it’s mostly staff in the building and one other day when students are present.
“He will go do visits in classrooms for the kids to interact with and when I am in the room observing he will just lay by me or sometimes walk around the room if all the students and staff in the room are comfortable with him doing so,” Hoaglund-Zumstein said. “I have found comfort and cheer in having dogs, and him specifically, around. His goal is to provide that for students as well as help reduce anxiety, stress and emotional arousal thereby improving mood.”
Hoaglund-Zumstein is also part of RUSD’s crisis team and eventually would like to take Casey to other schools when a need arises. Until then, Casey will continue to eagerly greet the students at Gilmore and make sure he visits the staff members who keep treats on hand for him.