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Home » Paw-sitive vibes: Meet the Waterville therapy dogs

Paw-sitive vibes: Meet the Waterville therapy dogs


Image of four dogs on leashes sitting in a school hallway next to purple lockers.

Wilson, Ginger, Sir Arthur and Bear (pictured left to right in the photo above) are therapy dogs in the Waterville Central School District and they are some of students’ and staff members’ closest companions.

Special education teacher, Debbie Nicotera, pioneered the therapy dog program in Waterville beginning in 2017 with Brewer, a yellow lab, who walked (sometimes ran) the halls at the Jr./Sr. High. Brewer is fondly remembered and deeply missed and a plaque adorns the wall outside Mrs. Nicotera’s room in his memory.

Now, the district is home to four therapy dogs who are tasked with spreading happiness each day. 

“I just love seeing the smiles the therapy dogs bring to our students’ faces. Their presence helps to promote positivity, responsibility, and self-confidence among our students,” said Superintendent Dr. Jennifer Spring, who is the dog mom to Ginger and Bear.

The dogs can also help to reduce learner anxiety and enhance student motivation to come to school each day. Other benefits include enhanced executive function and problem-solving skills, memory stimulation and improved oral reading fluency skills (by reading to a dog).   

They are available for all students and staff at various times during the day. Students can walk the dogs during lunch, study halls and even gym class. The dogs are available during class time as well. The guidance department may also request a therapy dog when a student is having a difficult day.

“Working with the dogs is rewarding because I can see how much they help students be the best they can be.” said special education teacher Debbie Nicotera, who is also Sir Arthur’s handler and owner.

Students said the presence of therapy dogs at school makes a huge difference. 

“Dogs increase happiness and productivity for students,” said junior Michael Sturr.

“They make our classes better and make everyone feel comfortable around them,” said junior Brianna Bell.

“Dogs in school improve students’ overall moods and make people more comfortable,” said junior Abigail Dapson.

The future of the program includes having a trained therapy dog at Memorial Park Elementary School soon.

“I can see how much the dogs help the students and staff. They are such a wonderful addition to our school community,” said Christa Nigro, school counselor for grades 10-12 and Wilson’s handler and owner.

All four of the dogs are certified through the Alliance of Therapy Dogs (ATD) with the local chapter coordinated through Cornell Cooperative Extension

Meet the four professionally trained therapy dogs for the Waterville Central School District:

Ginger

A two-year-old English yellow lab sits in front of a fancy pink sofa in a pink dress with her mouth open and tongue hanging out.

Ginger is a 2 year old English yellow lab who hails from the same breeder as Bear, her older brother. Ginger enjoys chasing the ball and visiting teachers’ classrooms who are known to harbor dog treats. A true therapy dog, Ginger loves giving hugs. She also loves spending time with her BFF, Sir Arthur.

Wilson

A four-year-old golden retriever stands in front of a door with flowers on it with big eyes and his tongue sticking out.

Wilson is a four year golden retriever. You can find him in the counseling office three days a week. Wilson loves to play fetch and get brushed by the students. He visits the library, nurse’s office, and English classes often!

Sir Arthur

A black English Labrador Retriever sits with a leash among students.

Sir Arthur is an English Labrador Retriever who started as a therapy dog in training at the age of 8 months. He loves going for walks, playing ball, visiting teachers’ classrooms, and belly rubs from all of his friends. He especially enjoys greeting his school friends when they come into the classroom first thing in the morning.

Bear

An English black lab with a plaid scarf stands on an alphabet rug in a classroom with another dog sniffing the rug next to him.

Bear is a 6 year-old English black lab and Ginger’s older brother.  He is proud that he recently earned his ATD certification. He is also proud that he learned to use his school voice when attending classes. Bear loves going for walks around the school and playing in the courtyard after school hours. You can find Bear, wagging his tail and greeting visitors to the district office.

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