It’s a Wednesday afternoon in Clark-Vitt Elementary art teacher Glenda Eichmeyer’s classroom.
Most students are hopping on buses and heading home for the day, but in this classroom students are camped-out underneath tables, reading books out loud to each other while enjoying the company of a special friend.
Xena, Eichmeyer’s specially trained therapy dog, spends every Wednesday laying with students as they read. Eichmeyer said her presence is calming and makes reading fun for her students, who are struggling with comprehension.
“These kids are the ones who are at lower levels but they have really started to enjoy reading,” she said. “We’re trying to get them interested in reading and having a dog in there they can read to helps with that.”
This reading time has been a moment six years in the making for Eichmeyer, who began vying for district-approval to bring therapy dogs into Union R-XI schools. She said, thanks to the help of a few administrators, Xena’s work at Clark-Vitt became possible.
Xena is a certified therapy dog. She is trained to provide affection, comfort and love to people in schools, hospitals, retirement homes, nursing homes, hospices and disaster areas. Part of her time at Clark-Vitt is spent doing just that: giving a little love to students and teachers.
Eichmeyer said since Xena Eichmeyer approved to be at school the students and teachers at Clark-Vitt have embraced having Xena in their halls. She said teachers especially like Xena, as she gives them a break from the stress of the school day.
“The teachers have said that when there are dogs in the building things are more relaxed and students are calmer,” Eichmeyer said. “There are a couple of teachers who bring snacks. It gives them a break from other stuff that’s going on.”
But coming to school every Wednesday isn’t Xena’s only job. When she’s not in class she trains to be a search and rescue dog. Eichmeyer works as an EMT and volunteer firefighter in Warrenton and is a K9 handler on search and rescue missions and she said she hopes Xena can be able to become human remains detection dog in the near future.
That would be another addition to her many certifications and honors, including several dog show awards, her therapy certification and her Canine Good Citizen certification.
For now, though, every Wednesday Xena roams the halls of Clark-Vitt, bringing smiles to students and teachers faces. Eichmeyer said while she may look like a very relaxed dog, she’s more active than one might guess.
“Even though she looks like she’s not very active, she’s been pretty busy these past few years,” Eichmeyer said. “It’s pretty amazing.”