Therapy Dog Helping Hill School Students Achieve

Inside Amanda Domenici’s Special Education class at the Hill School in Revere something amazing is happening.

Once a week the class is visited by Toby.

Toby is not a teacher but a golden doodle (half golden retriever half poodle) and is helping Special Ed students at the school become better readers just the same.

Toby is a therapy dog and during his visits with his trainer, Diane Murano, he sits on the classrooms reading mat and lets the two students at a time read him books.

This innovative program in Ms. Domenici’s classroom is helping her students overcome their troubles and fears of reading aloud.

“We are using Reading A-Z as a program to monitor their progress, and I have already had some students move up a level,” said Ms. Domenici. “One student in particular has a very high level of anxiety and physically shakes while reading. However, this behavior has significantly decreased since Toby began coming into our class. I am very excited to see the continued progress my students have made.”

Toby came into Murano’s life when he was just two weeks old.

“I had just lost my dear mother, my wonderful uncle and my 15 and a half-year-old Shih Tzu Emma all in the same week the month prior,” said Murano. “I was lost without them and I was searching for comfort and love.  I chose the name Toby for this sweet little dog because its meaning translated in Hebrew and Greek meant ‘God is Good.’   It was the perfect name.”

According to Murano it was a long road to get Toby from the puppy he was to the well-trained therapy dog the students love today.

“Toby was 10 puppies all rolled into one,” she said. “I needed help and I needed results fast.”

Murano said after extensive training at GoodFellas Doggie Day Care and Training in Saugus and at nine months old but it was the tragedy at Sandy Hook Elementary School in Newtown, Conn. that set Toby’s life on a course to become the therapy dog that is now a regular fixture at the Hill School.

“I was having a hard time, as was everyone else, trying to wrap my mind around this terrible and tragic loss of children and their teachers,” explained Murano. “Television coverage of this event continued morning, afternoon and night.  The outpouring of love and support from across the country and the world, for these victims and their families, was in a word ‘astounding.’  I had read in the newspaper an article on ‘Comfort Dogs’ that had been brought to Newtown from Chicago and wondered ‘what’s this all about’?”

Murano learned that these therapy, or ‘Comfort Dogs,’ helped the young victims of Newtown open up and talk about the tragedy they had witnessed.

“The children would only speak to the dogs of their horrible experience,” said Murano. “This affected me and my outlook for Toby.  At this point I wanted to share Toby with those who needed comfort and love as he had been giving me the same.”

However, it wasn’t until the Boston Marathon bombings that Murano became determined to seriously train Toby as a therapy dog.

“I had to meet these therapy dogs and talk with their handlers,” said Murano. “Weaving our way through and around the memorial, stopping to say our prayers for the victims, I stopped and spoke with one of the handlers and he had told me about Therapy Dogs International. That’s when I made up my mind.  This is what Toby and I are meant to do.”

Less than three months after the bombing Toby graduated TDI training

“He now holds Basic, Intermediate and Advanced Certificates in Training from GoodFellas Doggy Day Care and Training in Saugus and is a certified member of Therapy Dogs International… You could almost say that Toby has a PhD,” said Murano.

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