Fridays at Falling Waters Elementary School are a lot more fun these days.
In mid-February, the school launched Furry Fridays, welcoming a therapy dog named Ellie into its hallways and classrooms once a week.
Ellie – a 4-year-old golden retriever – first served as a therapy dog for two years at Papillion La Vista Community Schools. Its owner, Nicole Comstock, taught as a special education teacher for 10 years at Papillion before coming to Gretna last fall.
To prepare, a letter of introduction was sent with the school newsletter and families with allergies were contacted to make arrangements. Comstock and Ellie met with class teachers to provide more information about her license, schedule and more. Afterwards, Comstock visited each class to talk about Ellie and share expectations with the students.
“They were all so excited,” Comstock said. “It was a really positive thing.
“She doesn’t see anything different in other people. She sees everyone as someone to love and someone who can love her. It’s kind of nice to have that in a building. Even teachers, it’s good for them to have this kind of break in their day.
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Comstock is a resource teacher at Falling Waters, so she works with small groups of students and also visits a number of classrooms.
Ellie follows her mother’s normal Friday schedule, visiting a number of classrooms and communicating with many students.
“Her job is literally to make you smile, that’s what she’s here for, to make your day better, brighter, less stressful and just to enjoy being here at school,” Comstock said.
Having a dog at school relieves stress, but also makes students feel like owners. Sometimes students can even save time with Ellie through positive classroom behavior.
“There’s research to prove it,” Comstock said. “Just being in the presence of a dog relieves stress in itself.”
With young children invited to come to school, sit, learn and be present, it can sometimes be asking a lot, she said.
“It can be stressful for a lot of children, as well as teachers. Having something that’s essentially free and can just reduce that stress level has been really nice.
When looking for a dog in 2018, Comstock and her husband knew they might want to train her in order to be able to come to school. This dictated the traits they were looking for.
“We were kind of looking for a dog with a demeanor that would be good with kids,” she said. “We looked for certain characteristics and personality types.”
That first summer, Comstock and Ellie spent months working on socializing together before completing Love on a Leash certification. To get certified, the couple had to pass a monitoring assessment, which examined how well they worked as a team, passed this test and completed 10 hours of supervised visits.
“Fortunately for me, the school I went to, and Papillion in general, they had had therapy dogs for many years in the past, so I already had the green light from my administration. It was a relatively smooth transition because most of the kids had had a dog there before,” Comstock said.
At Gretna, the idea was a bit newer, especially at Falling Waters Elementary, one of the newer buildings in the neighborhood.
“Through a lot of hard work from other people, we were able to get approval for her to come this year,” Comstock said. “The kids are absolutely thrilled with it. They love it and are more than excited.
“He did some really cool things for our building. Children light up when they see her.
Ellie also makes visits to nursing homes in the community, although Comstock said Ellie prefers the fun and laughter that comes with children.
“She’s a ‘little female dog’. A school is just the best for her,” she said.
When not at school, Ellie enjoys swimming, long walks, playing ball and rolling in the mud. She loves being petted and gives the best kisses.