When Reed Intermediate School students head back to school Tuesday, joined by incoming students from Newtown's elementary schools, they'll once again enjoy the company of therapy dogs from TDI (Therapy Dogs International). The volunteer organization has served Newtown since even before Dec. 14.
Since December, more than 70 TDI dogs have been serving Newtown schools, venues, camps and events, supported by a host of volunteers.
"It's not just the children who benefit from this," said Kathryn Zaharek, director of TDI's Newtown chapter. "It's the parents as well. The children pick up a lot on the parents' anxiety. When children interact with the dog, it's almost as if there's a transaction of energy. The dogs off kindness and love. If it's a bad day, the dogs can really help them just be kids."
While the dogs have been a constant presence at Reed, that's not all. Over the last school year, TDI's dogs made appearances at schools across Newtown, from Middle Gate to the Middle School, serving individuals or groups for two hours at a time. They've also appeared at events around Newtown, and will make appearances at the Ben's Lighthouse Ice Cream Social, the Labor day Parade and the Newtown Arts Festival.
"My own dog will go up to people, look at their face and look for you to pet them," said Zaharek.
The organization plans to continue making the dogs a constant presence for the near future, but looking forward, Zaharek says she'll adapt to whatever the need is.
"It's hard to say what's going to be needed," she says. "We're going to be available on an as-needed basis. If the schools decide after the first couple days, they decide they need us every day, we'll be there. If they need us once a week, we'll be there; if they need us once a month, we'll be there. Whatever it is they feel the students and parents need, that's what dogs are there to do."