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.
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
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.