NORTHBOROUGH – Students eagerly turn and point as Toby walks by in the halls of the Lincoln Street Elementary School in Northborough.
Toby is a new therapy dog at the school. And he’s quickly become beloved among members of the student body.
While some students have been “a little reluctant” around Toby, Lincoln Street social worker Justin Lohwater recently told the Community Advocate that the sight of other students interacting has been helpful.
“They start to get a little bit less wary and can say hello to him,” Lohwater said.
Toby undergoes training
Toby, who is a nearly two-year-old rescue dog, is the newest therapy dog to join the Public Schools of Northborough and Southborough.
Toby joined the Lohwater family about two years ago.
Lohwater had previously worked in a residential setting that had therapy dogs.
“I could see just how beneficial a dog can be to different students with different needs,” Lohwater said.
Toby went through puppy classes and obedience training.
Last year, Lohwater then reached out to Lincoln Principal Jennifer Wright and Melican Middle School Principal Michelle Karb, who helps trains dogs through Bright Spot Therapy Dogs, expressing interest in training Toby as a therapy dog.
He began his training in October and started work at the school after the recent holiday break.
Toby joins other therapy dog
Lohwater works in Lincoln Street’s therapeutic learning program, which is a program for students with significant emotional needs.
About 75% of Toby’s day is spent with those students in their classrooms, sitting with the students during science lessons and during activities in the school’s libraries. Students help take care of him.
Toby spends time with students outside of the therapeutic learning program as well.
“His short time at Lincoln Street School has been so positive,” Wright said. “The kids are really excited. The staff is excited. I’ve already seen Toby in action doing his work. It’s been amazing.”
Toby joins other therapy dogs in the district, like Ruby who has been at Peaslee Elementary School for five years.
According behavior specialist Kathy Marcello, some students can “earn” spending time with Ruby. She’s used on lessons on impulse control. Students will also read to Ruby.
“There’s not a lot of demand with her — you’re sitting with her, you’re petting her. It takes away the pressure,” Marcello said.
Some staff spend time with Ruby, too.
“I think both children and adults, by seeing her and having her around, there’s a level of comfort and normalcy that is positive,” said Principal Mary Coakley.