Candace Rapuano is a family school liaison worker who works at Elm Street School on Wednesdays, Thursdays and Fridays and the Christian School on Mondays and Tuesdays. As an added bonus for staff and students, Rapuano brings her therapy dog Murphy with her, a three-and-a-half-year-old red golden retriever.
The Medicine Hat Public School Division feels lucky to have Rapuano bringing this unique skill set and service to the schools with Rapuano completing the training on her own time and taking care of all the costs associated with Murphy.
First thing in the morning and at recess, Rapuano and Murphy are either at the front entrance or in the playground to say hello to students and allow them time to visit with Murphy. When she started in the role last year, Murphy wasn’t yet certified as a therapy dog, but it was always something Rapuano was interested in doing.
“His temperament, even as a puppy, was so calm,” said Rapuano. “A typical day, we’ll greet the kids in the morning, who come by and ask to give him a pet. We’ll stand in the main area and as the kids stroll in they will give him a hug or some pets if they need it in the morning. Murphy is definitely the star of the show now.
It used to be, ‘Candace can I please have a hug,’ and now it’s, ‘Miss Candace, can I please pet Murphy.’” Those students Rapuano sees individually get to spend one-to-one time with Murphy as she works with them on empathy and feelings. She has a feelings chart with 15 pictures of Murphy expressing different emotions, which she uses as a talking point.
“It has been very helpful in aiding kids to identify their emotions and talk about how things make them feel,” said Candace. Principal Ashton Weisgerber said the conversation about having a therapy dog at the school began in 2019. The school distributed two surveys, one last year and one right before Murphy started coming to the school, with the response being only positive. A few concerns about allergies emerged and a safety plan was developed, although the families were more willing to work it out because their kids really wanted to see Murphy.
“We didn’t have somebody who was willing to train a dog and were lucky enough to have Candace start last year,” said Weisgerber. “Many people like dogs, but I didn’t know how much influence it would have on the whole community. Some of our students have a background with anxiety and different things going on and are instantly calm when Murphy is in the room.
“We are thankful to the community for letting us have a shot at this because it’s new for some of our schools, not everyone’s had a therapy dog in their building so we weren’t sure what the perception would be around it, but it’s been overwhelming how positive it’s been. Children open up to a therapy dog being around versus just us alone.
There is a trust there with these animals, it’s new territory but it’s been wonderful.”
Grade 6 student Lennox loves spending time with Murphy, sometimes coming down to see him several times a day, because he’s such a good dog.
“He’s beautiful and doesn’t ask any questions, because look at him, he’s soft and he’s a very good carer,” said Lennox, who feels happy when he’s with Murphy saying it makes this year better than previous school years. “I’m kinda sad this is my last year because the school finally got a therapy dog.”
By Samantha Johnson, Local Journalism Initiative Reporter
Original Published on Nov 28, 2023 at 22:01