Mark the Therapy Dog Inspires Young Changemakers at Samoset Middle School

Photo Credit – Kristi Maloney

Mark the therapy dog is owned by full-time puppy raiser and volunteer Kathy Haskell. Mark and Kathy volunteer at Samoset and Fall Brook schools in Leominster by visiting and reading with the Life Skill classes. According to the non-profit organization, therapy dogs provide literacy support, helping children focus better and encouraging specifically the love of reading and learning in general.

I thought that the kids who are in my Youth Venture workshop blocks at Samoset would enjoy a visit from Kathy and Mark as well. Several student venture teams are passionate about animals (dogs are always a favorite!) and would like to help animals by partnering with area animal shelters.

In one of her first emails to me, Kathy shared some information about Mark. As it turns out, Mark has an interesting backstory. As a puppy, he was training to be a guide dog with the Guide Dog Foundation out of New York. When he went back at fourteen months, during his physical exam, the vet found a cataract starting in his right eye. Unfortunately, he could not continue training as a guide dog and was released for this medical reason back to Kathy.

This big yellow lab is so sweet and laid back that Kathy had to have him do something to help others. They have visited schools, hospitals and many other communities since, and have been on this journey for five years. Kathy says it is so rewarding and clearly, Mark ended up where he was supposed to be.

A few months ago, Mark and Kathy made those visits to the Youth Venture workshop blocks at Samoset. They stopped by to visit with the sixth and seventh graders as well as the Life Skills students.

Photo Credit – Kristi Maloney

I was amazed to see the effect Mark had on the sixth graders – his calm energy filtered through the classroom as Kathy led him in. The kids who gathered around to pet his soft yellow fur were calm and focused. Mark was stretched out on the floor basking in all the attention. I noticed Kathy looking on – a huge smile on her face. I was happy to see that the students truly benefited from their visit!

Photo Credit – Kristi Maloney

It is scientifically proven that interaction with a gentle, friendly pet has significant benefits. A therapy dog can encourage communication, provide comfort, increase socialization, sense of community and reduce boredom per What better way to inspire this young generation of changemakers than to encourage communication and a sense of community as they move forward with their ventures – no matter the cause?

For Mark (the dog) and Kathy (the human) another school year means scheduling those beneficial classroom visits. The new school year has officially kicked-off and soon Youth Venture workshops at Samoset will again be in full swing. To keep the enthusiasm and inspiration alive, I will be sure to schedule return visits from Mark and Kathy!