SULPHUR, Okla. – When Jasmine, the therapy dog, arrived at the Oklahoma School for the Deaf in February, the students naturally knew what to do.
They loved her.
Jasmine and her adult humans, however, still had a few things to learn.
A Labrador-mix breed, Jasmine had been adopted and returned twice to P.A.W.S. animal shelter in Ada, through no fault of her own.
A New Leash on Life, Inc. in Norman selected her to attend 10-weeks of obedience training through their Pen Pals Prison Program at CCA-Davis Correctional Facility in Holdenville.
“We look for dogs that are easy-going, laid back and not bothered by a lot of things for placement as therapy dogs,” Barbara Lewis, A New Leash on Life executive director, explained. “They are homeless dogs, so we try very hard to match them with a working opportunity when they graduate.”
Oklahoma School for the Deaf Counselor Gayla Jackson and Librarian Lesa Price were approved for a therapy dog in time for the prison trainer to teach basic sign language hand signals for the commands sit, stay and come.
When Jasmine first arrived, the students gave her a sign name. But she did not want to go upstairs at the school. A New Leash on Life trainers came to OSD to help their therapy dog adjust. After coaxing by a favorite student and a few cheeseburgers, her phobia came to an end.
“She’s a good therapy dog and a good home dog,” Jackson explained. “Once she got here, I was determined to keep her, whether she worked out as a therapy dog or not.”
Jasmine lives with Jackson after work, on the weekends and vacation breaks. The dog keeps a watchful eye on Jackson most of the time.
Price, who shares handling responsibilities, takes care of Jasmine in the school library when Jackson is not available during school hours.
“Jasmine calms students down and opens them up – makes them feel comfortable – and she loves coming to work,” she said. “Once she goes past the guard shack, she knows she’s here.”
During the interview, Jasmine happily cuddles with students and then lies down with sigh after the lunch light flashes.
“It’s a great idea to have a therapy dog at the School for the Deaf,” Lewis agreed. “Children and even adults feel more comfortable with dogs as a companion than they do with other people. I think it’s because they are not judgmental and seem to relate to people emotionally.”
At first, Jackson worried that her two Boston Terriers, who lack formal training, might be a bad influence.
“The trainer said that it doesn’t work like that,” Jackson explained. “Thank goodness.”
Training continues for Jasmine and Jackson. They are currently enrolled in an obedience class at Canine Sports Academy in Norman soon to be followed with a class to prepare them to take the Canine Good Citizen test. After that, it’s more testing so Jasmine can become certified by Therapy Dog International.
“I want the kids and adults to know that she actually passed her certification test, and there is nothing to worry about,” Jackson said. “Plus, the trainer is going to work on tricks with her, so the kids can be more engaged with what she does and she can become less attached to me.”
“This summer, I plan to bring her to summer camp, and I’ll probably take her to nursing homes to keep her working until school starts up in the fall,” Jackson said. “She loves working. She loves people. We’ve got this.”
As the statewide resource center on deafness, OSD offers the ultimate learning environment for deaf and hard of hearing students who meet the same graduation requirements as students in other public schools. In 2016, 240 students lived at the school during the week, commuted from home or attended summer school classes. OSD operates two satellite preschools at the University of Central Oklahoma in Edmond and the University of Arts and Sciences of Oklahoma in Chickasha. As the statewide resource center for students who are deaf or hard of hearing, OSD provides thousands of free evaluations and direct services each year for students attending local public schools, their families and educators. The school is a division of the Oklahoma Department of Rehabilitation Services.
For more information, phone (580) 622-4900 or (888) 685-3333 toll free or visit the website at www.osd.k12.ok.us/.