MOUNT GILEAD — As they enter the gym, Physical Education students at Mount Gilead Middle School are greeted with a welcome sniff by Mak, a four-year old female golden doodle.
Mak is a therapy dog of their PE teacher, Dawn Malcom.
“The best thing about Mak is that she smiles at me,” said Taylor McCarty, who loves to run with Mak at the beginning of her PE class.
“I like to get exercise with Mak. I like running,” said McCarty who plans to keep her grades up so she can run cross country next year.
Mak has a definite set of job duties as a working therapy dog. Along with greeting students and social interaction, she encourages their participation. She has a gentle temperament and enjoys the petting and attention from students.
“Mak is here to support students and be a calming influence,” said Malcom.
Malcom sees positive changes toward learning and class participation since Mak has been with her classes five days a week this fall.
She was certified as a therapy dog in 2020. When Mak was a year old she went to “puppy boot camp.” Malcom took Mak to weekly training for six weeks after the initial camp. In training sessions, trainers evaluated her temperament and interactions with people.
Trainers tested her with wheel chairs and walkers and they went to the mall to see how she would do in crowds. Her training has taught her to make a distinction between the time she is working with her therapy harness on and when it comes off for a break or at home.
“With her therapy harness, she knows she is working,” said Malcom. “She is out of the harness at lunchtime for a break and at home she plays and jumps around like a puppy when she is out of the harness.”
Malcom has three children who also enjoy playing with Mak. They have their first appointment going to a nursing home with Mak on Sunday. She noted that therapy dogs are often known for their training in nursing home visits.
Middle School Principal Clay Grube said, “The kids really like Mak. When some of the kids have a rough day, they gravitate towards Mak.”
Both Grube and Malcom recalled a morning when a student was anxious and agitated. They let him take Mak for a walk in the yard and it made a difference in making the child’s entire day better.
As Malcom walked down the hall between classes, Mak’s tail wagged all the way through the halls to the principal’s office.
As students and teachers saw Mak coming down the hall, their faces lit up with a smile and often a gentle tap on Mak’s back as she passed by.
“It’s Mak they say “hi” to now. I’m just chopped liver,” Malcom said with a smile.