BERKELEY HEIGHTS, NJ — About a year ago, educators at Mary Kay McMillin Early Childhood Center in Berkeley Heights pursued a grant to welcome a young Australian Labradoodle into their classrooms. At the forefront of this program was Ms. Anne Corley-Hand, the principal of MKM.

“After attending a workshop on the Benefits of Therapy Dogs in Schools, I made the decision to adopt a second dog. I reached out to Stefani Whiteman at Ocean State Labradoodles to begin the adoption process. We welcomed Timber into our home on July 4 and he began his 'work' at the Early Childhood Center in early July,” said Corley-Hand.

As the principal of MKM and the owner of Timber, the young Labradoodle, Ms. Corley-Hand became the face of the movement to train Timber and introduce him to the students. She began by composing a grant proposal, seeking money from the Berkeley Heights Education Foundation to help train Timber as a therapy dog.

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Ms. Corley-Hand added, “We have found Timber’s presence to elicit language and promote play skills with the district’s youngest students. I am incredibly fortunate that our Superintendent, Judy Rattner and the Board of Education are supportive of innovative programs and look forward to the continued escapades of Timber the Dog.”

Thanks to Lisa Plocinski, of On The Ball Dog Training, who worked directly with Timber, he was able to complete training and begin his work as a therapy dog at Mary Kay McMillin.

With only one year under Timber’s belt as a therapy dog, it is abundantly clear that not only was this a beneficial allocation of funding, but the improvements in student behavior suggest that this method should be introduced in schools nationwide. Ms. Corley-Hand has received countless testimonials from parents and students alike, thanking Timber for the comforting atmosphere he has provided for students with anxiety, autism, and learning disorders.

Allison Harris, whose daughter Ava suffers from anxiety, wrote, “ I honestly do not know how this year would have gone if not for Timber. As a full-time working mom, to know that Timber was there to help soothe her anxiety and fears, calmed my nerves and made me feel safe. If it was not for Timber, my daughter would not have been able to concentrate in class, have the confidence to experience new things and meet new people.”

Each morning, students crowd around Ms. Corley-Hand and Timber in the lobby. Even Mario Hernandez, a student coping with Autism and Sensory Processing Disorder joins in every morning. Typically Mario struggles with social situations, especially in large, crowded rooms and noisy environments.

However, Lisa Hernandez, Mario’s mother noted otherwise after her son’s experience with Timber.

She said, “Seeing Timber instantly pulls Mario out of the internal world in which he spends so much of his time. The crowd of children that converges on Ms. Corley and Timber in the mornings never bothers Mario. He is perfectly content to sit right in the middle of a noisy, bustling group of kids that he would never tolerate under any other circumstance.”

With so many success stories, Timber has shed a light on how therapy dogs can help young kids transition through school, cope with social challenges, anxiety, and so much more.