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Moline school district starts therapy dog program

Cooper, a one-year-old Goldendoodle, is a new therapy dog at Wilson Middle School in Moline.

MOLINE, Ill. — The Moline-Coal Valley school district has a new staff member -- a therapy dog.

Cooper is a one-year-old Goldendoodle that now works in the counseling office at Wilson Middle School in Moline. His owner, Marlena Urbain, is the school social worker.

The new program at Wilson Middle School allows students to walk in to the counseling office throughout the day to see Cooper. Other students can stay longer if needed, and other students who are specifically assigned to Urbain's caseload may spend more time with Cooper individually, according to Urbain.

One student said he comes down to the counseling office at least once per day to interact with Cooper.

Cooper is part of a pilot program in the school district. While having Cooper is beneficial for students, Urbain said Cooper is benefiting staff, too.

"Middle school's challenging to begin with," said Urbain. "But then coming off a pandemic, with added stress, families have experienced financial hardship over the past year, we don't know what a lot of our kids have gone through, so having this layer of social-emotional support, the timing couldn't be better."

Cooper is still getting used to the sights and sounds of being inside a busy middle school building, especially with the bells and crowded hallways. 

Urbain said Cooper will eventually be moving around the hallways more regularly, and may also be integrated into classroom lesson plans to reach more students.

Cooper is the only therapy dog in the school district right now. Urbain said she hopes to see the district expand the therapy dog program to reach more students. She said ideally each school eventually could add a therapy dog to its resources for students.