The Conversation on Dogs at School

Elyse Sommer, Staffer

When you see a puppy, what do you think of? Do you think of soft fur, snuggles and cute puppy dog eyes? Or do you envision the sharp baby teeth, pawing at the back door, and barking at 6am on Saturday mornings? Washington D.C.’s Edmond Burke definitely sees the adorably puppy love of bringing dogs to school, as reported by the Washington Times.

Edmond Burke, a private school located near the Van Ness metro station, allows its administrators and teachers to bring dogs to school and the results are endlessly good.

“The great thing about a dog is they just express affection, and that may be in short supply with a lot of these kids,” said Jeff Sindler, head of the Burgundy Farm Country Day School in Alexandria.  “Some of the kids who had the biggest personal struggle would form the strongest connection to the dog,” Sindler said.  However, the puppy presence in schools doesn’t stop there.

Edmond Burke isn’t the only school in Washington D.C. that follows this pro-dog thinking.  Public school systems in Fairfax and Montgomery counties in Maryland confirmed that non-service dogs are not allowed inside their buildings. In fact, Edmond Burke School is only one of many in the nation that believes in bringing dogs.

Emily Hilley (11) definitely sees the adorably fluffy side of bringing dogs to school, like Edmond Burke School. “My dog is so happy…he makes my day. He helps me release my stress. He’s so happy and he loves to lick me,” Hilley said. On the contrary, Hilley said she wouldn’t bring her dog, a young Hiccaido puppy, around other dogs or people because “he gets too excited and the other dogs we live by are mean.”

The argument for dogs attending school along with their owner goes beyond just the student’s convenience, but also brings into question the administrator or teacher’s comfort.

“If I had to do anything tough, like when a kid knew he was going to be suspended, Lassie would invariably pick up on the emotion. It was, Come over, put head on lap and let the soothing begin. It was very helpful,” Dick Jung, who ran Bullis School in Potomac, MD said. His black lab, Lassie, attended almost every meeting.

Should all dogs attend school, like Maryland schools believe? Or should only the dogs with the most important purpose be allowed to come to school?

“I think service dogs, like where someone needs the dog, is totally fine, but just bringing your pet to school is really tough and would be really distracting,” Ryaan Kayali (10) said. “Dogs are kind of like a natural attraction so it would be really hard to focus your attention on schoolwork.”

That’s why Damian Jones, headmaster since 2014, and the staff at Edmond Burke created reasonable guidelines for bringing dogs to school.

Jones and the faculty agreed that the dogs could stay if they followed a clear set of guidelines: No free-range dogs; no dogs near students with phobias or allergies; signs on any classroom where a dog hangs out; all shots up to date and documented.

Among the emotional benefits or distracting downsides of having dogs at school, there is also the issue of the changes to the school day and environment that would need to be made in order to accommodate pets attending.

“We’d probably have to have longer passing periods so that we could all take our dogs outside, let them do their business. There would probably have to be some new facilities, like potty turf stations or water bowls left out,” Hilley said. “If I’m being honest, my dog would probably pee everywhere if I brought him to school!”

After all the budget changes and social shifts that letting dogs come to school would require, the issue boils down to if dogs would actually help relieve stress in classes or if they would increase it.

“My dog would definitely help with my stress level because she brings me comfort,” Alyssa Shappee (9) said of her new puppy Lulu, a several week old black labrador.

“I’d be pretty happy to have dogs at school, but I think it would be a distraction,” Kayali said.

“He’s a lot better than a fish or gerbil, that’s for sure,” Kalea George-Phillips (12), student of Edmond Burke, said about an administrator’s dog Lenny, a nine-pound Chihuahua mix.

Washington D.C seems to be ahead of the curve in allowing puppies on school grounds and undoubtedly, the majority of the country is going to follow in Washington’s innovative steps. The question is where?  When?  Schools across the country are barring dogs on campus, but which brave administrator or student is going to make the change to allow dogs to accompany students and teachers? Maybe the change starts here, right in our own community.  Who knows?