Wellsford’s Rodney College has a very special addition to its counselling team, a four-legged friend who has brought a touch of joy into the lives of students and staff alike.
Bryn, a two-year old Cavoodle, works at the school two or three days a week, mostly in the office of his owner and school counsellor, Kerry Jenner, although he starts his day near the entrance, welcoming students as they arrive.
“Sometimes a friendly, soft pat helps the students feel more relaxed to begin their day of learning,” Kerry says.
Next up, it’s morning briefing in the staffroom, where Bryn does the rounds, sometimes offering a cuddle to any teacher wanting or needing one.
The real work begins in Kerry’s counselling office, where the way he relates to visiting students depends largely on their response to him.
“Some, he gives a gentle nose to the hand, some he cuddles, and others he will bring a toy to play.
Sometimes a really sad student can break through to talk, by first laughing at Bryn who can be a little bit goofy,” she says.
“Other times, a student quietly interacts with Bryn, in silence, until they are ready to talk. Some students call by the counselling room just to have a pat and carry on with their day feeling a little happier, or calmer.”
Kerry says several students have discovered that if they start to dance, Bryn will stand on his hind legs and join in. If a student doesn’t show interest, however, he takes a nap on his special bed until needed again.
“Over this year, many students have held him, and cried into him. He accepts this, and then tells them they will be okay by gently looking up, and leaning into them when they are ready. Being gentle with Bryn can also help de-escalate angry students.”
Kerry notes that schools have traditionally been dog-free zones, so having a therapy dog at a secondary school is special. Even one initially reluctant staff member had acknowledged recently that “Everything goes better with Bryn!”
Bryn was recently a finalist in the NZ Top Dog competition, in both the Top Dog with a Job and People’s Choice division. In the entry blurb, Kerry wrote: “Many, many young people struggle with their mental health. In our area they are desperately under-serviced by support agencies. Bryn can’t diagnose ADHD (yet?), or run a restorative hui when things go wrong, but he can sense depression, anxiety, sadness, loneliness, and does his part in the world to help.”
Bryn, who has been active at the school since early 2023, is himself re-homed with Kerry, having come from “a loving family who wanted him to live his best life”.
“His best life,” Kerry says, “involves being Rodney College’s therapy dog.”