• Bob Vlach, Woodford Sun Staff

Hazel ‘brings joy’ to students ,teachers at WCMS


Students, teachers and Principal Liz Kirk regularly stop to give Hazel a

pat on the head when they see Woodford County Middle School’s therapy

dog in a hallway with handler Kelly Sayre.

Sayre, a guidance counselor, views having a therapy dog at WCMS as a way

to not only lessen a student’s anxiety in school, but also a way for her

to build a rapport with a student. “It’s been such a great conversation

starter with students that, I think, when they do have an issue they’re

more comfortable coming down here” and talking to me in my office, she says.

During a school year when it’s been tough to make new friends because

students are wearing masks and having fewer social interactions,

seventh-grader Leighton Cross and Hazel have formed a special bond in

their first year at WCMS.

“She brings me joy and I smile every time I see her,” says Leighton, 12.

So when she’s feeling stressed about school, it’s Hazel who keeps her

focused on what she’s doing and brings her happiness.

When a teacher gets to Hazel first, Leighton says she’ll wait or walk

past, and then return so she can pet this 39-pound dog that seemingly

helps everyone find calm in a hectic day.

“Hazel,” says Kirk, “brings joy to our hallways.”

Students have become more comfortable greeting Hazel as the school year

has progressed, according to Sayre. She says they’ve come to understand

she’s at school for them, but “the teachers rely on her just as much as

the kids do ...”

When students weren’t in the building because they were learning

virtually during the height of the pandemic, Kirk says, “Hazel … put a

smile on our faces.”

Now, with most students back in the building for in-person instruction,

teachers take turns hugging Hazel. Those hugs are “always a great way to

start our day,” adds Kirk.

A self-described “dog kind of girl,” agri-science teacher Meaghan DeVito

says, “I’ll stand in the hallway and I’ll just wait for her to come to

me.” She says having Hazel in the school during a year when “anxiety is

higher than normal,” has been welcomed by students and teacher alike.

“It’s been nice just to have her around,” says DeVito.

‘Something bigger’

Before becoming a guidance counselor at WCMS in 2013, Sayre taught math

during her 22 years in middle school, but knew “I had to do something

bigger,” she says.

This mother of two (Kennedy, who recently completed her freshman year at

the University of Alabama, and Reid, an eighth-grader at WCMS) says she

likes being there when a student needs someone to listen.

While listening to a guidance counselor talk about the dog therapy

program she started in Scott County during a conference in September

2019, Sayre says she thought to herself, “I know I can do this with Hazel.”

Now 4 and a half, Hazel was only 9 weeks old when she became a part of

Sayre’s family. “A dog,” says Sayre, “has always been my emotional

support, so why not share that with my kids?”

It wasn’t until after Southside Elementary School received approval from

the Woodford County Board of Education in February 2020 to have a

facility dog, Sully, in its building that Sayre and Hazel began their

training with Pawsibilities Unleashed in Frankfort, she says.

Their 10 weeks of training was a challenge because Hazel is a Border

Collie-Australian Shepherd mix. “I definitely had doubts,” says Sayre,

“because this is not a typical therapy dog breed. Usually, when you see

a therapy dog or service animal, you see a … lab … or you see a golden

retriever … And she’s obviously none of that.”

Hazel had impulse control issues that other breeds master more easily,

explains Sayre. She credits their trainer, Liz Norris, the founder and

owner of Pawsibilities Unleashed, for being “very patient with me and

with Hazel.”

To help ensure Hazel doesn’t experience what Sayre describes as “sensory

overload” because of her many interactions with students and teachers

throughout a school day, Hazel usually only comes to work with her on

Tuesdays and Fridays.

One of Sayre’s goals for next school year is ensuring more students have

opportunities to interact with Hazel on a regular basis. Students who

don’t like or want to be around dogs are allowed to make that choice and

Hazel is kept away from them, Sayre says.

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