When you walk into most middle schools, you’re greeted by the faces of students or faculty. At Meyer Middle School, if you’re lucky, you’ll be greeted by the wagging tail of Croix, an English Cream Golden Retriever and the newest member of the counseling staff.
It’s no mystery why a fluffy, happy-go-lucky golden with the training to boot, would make for an impactful addition to the Meyer Middle School team. The services Croix provides can’t be done by human staff. Though only being a certified therapy dog for a short time, he’s already made a considerable mark on students and staff.
In June of 2020, Sommer Bowers, Meyer Middle School psychologist, adopted Croix as a puppy. “He was a pandemic puppy,” she said. Throughout the last year, Croix has been through various training programs, including Twin Cities Obedience Training Club and the Canine Coach. Croix has also earned his American Kennel Club Canine Good Citizen and AKC Novice Trick Dog titles. Most recently, enabling him to work closely with students, Croix became a certified therapy dog on Sept. 10 through the national organization of the Alliance of Therapy Dogs.
Since January of 2021, Croix has been getting to know the halls of Meyer. While he was going through the training process, Bowers would bring him to the building to get familiar with the area and to see how he interacted with all it holds. “Just basically a huge practice session,” she said.
Croix has a two-day work week. Bowers found this to be a good balance for him and for her.
Just hanging out improved my mood.
He gave me lots of serotonin.
He was very nice and calming.
He was calming and got my mind off of things.
It was very enjoyable and made me feel safe and welcome.
It felt good to get fresh air after a long day and pet him.
It was nice and relaxing.
It was calming and a lot of fun.
He was very calming.
It was calm and peaceful.
He was so cute and made me feel very happy!!!
I liked the relaxing vibe and I felt really calmed by this visit.
On the days he’s at the school, Croix has 10 pre-scheduled visits with students, who can request to have a ten minute meeting with Croix through an accessible Google form. Staff can also request for a student to see Croix or for him to visit a classroom.
In his first month on the job, Croix had 121 student requests. “So he’s pretty popular,” Bowers said.
Each student has the ability to customize their visit with Croix. Just hanging out, going on a walk or coloring are popular options. “I've really just let the kids lead the conversation,” Bowers, who sits in during students' visits with Croix, said. “Sometimes we're just chatting about their day. Sometimes they share things. A lot of times it's just ten minutes where they tell me about their own dogs at home or just any stress they have going on.”
After each session, students are asked to fill out a response questionnaire, asking if their visit with Croix helped, amongst other simple questions. Croix has had a 100% positive response rate. Every student who has spent just a few minutes with him has said it has improved their mood.
“I feel like I see a different side of kids and I see a different side of the adults,” Principal Mark Chapin said. “I just feel like Croix brings up the goodness in people and the kindness… It's almost like you're at home.”
Croix’s calming effect has made the counseling office a more accessible place for many. “We see kids that normally wouldn't come down here,” Samantha Dusek, one of three counselor’s at the middle school, said. Students who normally would not book an appointment with a school psychologist will reveal struggles to Bowers and Croix, opening the door for further intervention and support.
“He's even reaching some of our special education students that are known to maybe have some more outward behavior,” Dusek said.
When you put Croix in a room full of young students, it almost seems like magic the way he is able to read the situation and make every single one feel seen.
“I think one of his biggest strengths,” Dusek said. “He somehow just knows… he stops at every single person and spends the perfect amount of even, time with every single person.”
Dogs, like Croix, are seemingly able to reach humans in a way that other humans can’t. And the staff at Meyer Middle School had only good results to share.