Cork school gets new canine companion in bid to reduce anxiety and stress amongst students post-Covid

Two-year-old Alma, a golden Labrador and Retriever mix, joined the school community at Glanmire Community College (GCC) on April 25 following an extensive process of assessment and has been lighting up the corridors ever since.
Cork school gets new canine companion in bid to reduce anxiety and stress amongst students post-Covid

Caroline Byrne, teaching staff member and dog handler with students Leah and Ushna along with community dog Alma, at Glanmire Community College. Picture: David Keane

A COMMUNITY DOG recently introduced at a Cork secondary school in a bid to reduce anxiety and stress amongst students post-Covid is already making a ‘pawsitive’ impact in helping to break down barriers and bring a smile to students’ faces.

Two-year-old Alma, a golden Labrador and Retriever mix, joined the school community at Glanmire Community College (GCC) on April 25 following an extensive process of assessment and has been lighting up the corridors ever since.

Alma is trained under the Irish Guide Dogs for the Blind’s Community Dog Programme, where dogs with a handler work alongside the educational staff and educational therapists in a school to help reduce stress and increase the learning potential of the students through goal-directed interventions.

Together, the trained dog and handler participate in classroom activities and work with individual students and groups.

 Caroline Byrne, teaching staff member and dog handler with principal Ronan McCarthy and students Leah and Ushna along with community dog Alma, at Glanmire Community College.
Caroline Byrne, teaching staff member and dog handler with principal Ronan McCarthy and students Leah and Ushna along with community dog Alma, at Glanmire Community College.

GCC has become the seventh school nationwide to join the programme, which teacher Caroline Byrne, who looks after Alma on a full-time basis, lauds as “amazing”.

“I just think in a school, a dog breaks down so many barriers. To have a dog who is specifically trained in terms of temperament and personality to work every day in a school with adolescents, I just think is amazing,” Ms Byrne said, speaking to The Echo ahead of Guide Dog Day tomorrow.

“She’s [Alma] predominantly placed in our ASD programme but what we have realised as days go on is she’s a community dog, as the title suggests!

“Every time I’m on the corridor with her, everyone smiles. If nothing else, it changes the atmosphere of the place.” 

School principal Ronan McCarthy said the introduction of a community dog is part of the school’s well-being programme.

“We have a lot of kids in school presenting with anxiety, as every school does now and particularly after Covid.

 Caroline Byrne, teaching staff member and dog handler with principal Ronan McCarthy along with community dog Alma, at Glanmire Community College. Picture: David Keane
Caroline Byrne, teaching staff member and dog handler with principal Ronan McCarthy along with community dog Alma, at Glanmire Community College. Picture: David Keane

“We have a very strong pastoral care structure in place and Alma is a recent addition to that.

“We, for example, have introduced this year to the school a therapeutic counsellor who comes in and meets students who have a particular level of need.

“That’s in addition to the pastoral support that we would normally provide.

“Alma is another step in this direction,” he said.

Mr McCarthy paid tribute to Ms Byrne for her efforts in undergoing the necessary training for the programme and for her full-time care of Alma. 

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