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Riverview's Four Footed Faculty Member

Trista Smith '24

Riverview has a new faculty member that is a little different, he has four legs! Pirate the therapy dog, along with his handler Diane Andrews, has joined Ram Nation. A therapy dog provides a safe place for students and Pirate has made a significant change to Riverview High School. He has had an enormous effect on students, increasing students’ self-awareness, social awareness, responsible decision making, self-management, and relationship skills.

Therapy dogs go with their owners out in public to schools or hospitals, and are trained to provide affection, comfort and support to people in crisis. The dogs are expected to interact with everyone while on duty, including letting people pet them.

Pirate, who will turn 6 on March 14th which is pi day, was originally in training to be a service dog, however he was disqualified when doctors found out that he had hip dysplasia. He then was sent on another path to become a therapy dog.

“At Freedom Dogs in Denver, Colorado, they have a special program where they train dogs to be Professional therapy dogs, if they can't be service dogs for a variety of reasons” Andrews said.

A service dog is trained to do work or perform tasks for people with disabilities. A therapy dog is trained to provide affection and comfort to people in hospitals, retirement homes, nursing homes, schools, or hospices. Only mental health counselors are allowed to adopt therapy dogs. Andrews states “I was on a waiting list for a year.”

Pirate trained for 6 months at Freedom Service Dogs and then continued training at a maximum-security prison in Canon City, Colorado for 2 months. They have a special program where inmates train dogs. Freedom Service Dogs have a partnership with them.

Andrews adopted Pirate in June of 2017, after completing her certificate at the University of Denver for Animals and Human Health. She and Pirate began working at a school in Colorado as a full-time Counselor/therapy dog combination. Andrews facilitated canine assisted social and emotional groups for students teaching the groups CASEL (Competencies And Social Emotional Learning). The school even changed their mascot to a pirate.


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