Worcester School Calls On Therapy Dog To Help Students Communicate

Wicomico Wagsters member Welton Seal works with Cedar Chapel Special School student Xander Jahn and Murphy, his Bernese Mountain Dog, last Friday. Photos by Charlene Sharpe

BERLIN – Many of the children at Cedar Chapel Special School have trouble communicating.

Some don’t speak. Others have trouble forming sentences.

So when Principal Belinda Gulyas heard one child ask distinctly, in a complete sentence, to pet the school’s therapy dog, she was blown away.

“It was kind of magical at that moment,” she said.

Murphy, a six-year-old Bernese Mountain Dog, is now a regular visitor at Cedar Chapel. All of the school’s students have been introduced to him and get to work with him throughout the year.

“They get so excited when they see him in the hall,” said Wendy Ryan, a speech pathologist at the school.

Murphy and his owner, Welton Seal, are part of Wicomico Wagsters, a volunteer therapy dog group. The duo also visits the Holly Center, Deer’s Head Hospital, Coastal Hospice and other area schools. They’ve logged more than 1,600 hours of visits.

Not surprisingly Murphy is quick to impress. At the “chin up” command, he will put his head in the lap of someone in a wheelchair.

Murphy demonstrates on Seal how he hugs while visiting Cedar Chapel Special School last week.

Murphy demonstrates on Seal how he hugs while visiting Cedar Chapel Special School last week.

Ask him for a hug and he will carefully wrap a paw around your leg.

Seal says he spent years working with the 110-pound Murphy to make sure he would be careful on his visits to schools and hospitals.

“We focused on behavior that facilitates safety in a fragile population,” he said.

Because of that, at Cedar Chapel, students are able to do everything from walk Murphy around the classroom to use him as a pillow.

They are each given the chance to work on their communication skills by indicating what sort of activity they would like to do with Murphy. Some are eager to hold the leash and lead him around the room while others simply ask for a hug. They are all thrilled to see him though.

“It’s so exciting because we don’t see those big smiles all the time,” Ryan said.

Some of the students she expects to be afraid of the big dog are the ones who are quickest to be found lying on the floor with him.

Gulyas said what she particularly likes about the program is Seal’s interest in doing all that he can to help the students.

“He wanted to bring a service,” she said. “He was very adamant that it wasn’t just a dog coming to visit.”

Seal, who himself earned an animal-assisted therapy certificate, said he wants to make sure the kids get all they can from their time with Murphy.

“What we’ve aspired to do is move from the typical visits you associate with therapy dogs to intentional intervention,” he said.

Although Murphy has only been visiting the school since the spring, Ryan said she has already seen improvement in some students’ communication skills.

“We’re trying to work him into more lessons,” she said. “We’d love to have a Murphy as a part of our sensory room.”

To see photos, click over to www.facebook.com/thedispatchoc

 

 

Worcester Commissioners Reflect On Last Meeting

BERLIN – Four longtime county representatives said their goodbyes Tuesday at their last meeting as Worcester County Commissioners. Several citizens took the opportunity to thank the departing commissioners — Virgil Shockley, Judy Boggs, Jim Purnell and Louise Gulyas — for their years of service to the county. “We appreciate what you’ve done for us and the region,” said Mike Pennington, … Continue reading

Casual Designs Using Technology To Better Client Experiences

OCEAN CITY – Casual Designs has provided the Delmarva area with quality furniture for over 50 years, and, as the small business has grown, it has transitioned to utilizing modern day technology to provide customers the best experience. Owner Dick Ludlam was born on 3rd Street in Ocean City and was raised in the resort for most of his life. … Continue reading

Council Passes ‘Positive Impact’ Emergency Ordinance; Lower Credit Percentage Will Reduce Tax Bills

OCEAN CITY – An emergency ordinance was passed this week to bring tax relief to owner-occupied homes in Ocean City by lowering the Homestead Tax Credit to 100 percent, ultimately reducing tax bills by about $80,000. The ordinance amends the Local Homestead Tax Credit Percentage for Ocean City to 100 percent in accordance with the Town of Ocean City Strategic … Continue reading

South Moon Under, Mexico Resort Launch Text-To-Win Contest

BERLIN — South Moon Under and Mexico Grand Hotels announced on Monday the launch of a nationwide text-to-win mobile SMS contest to “Win a Stylish Getaway.” South Moon Under’s fans and customers can enter for a chance to win a five-night, all-inclusive stay for two guests at Hacienda Encantada Resort & Spa in Cabo San Lucas, Mexico and $1,000 to … Continue reading

AGH, Beebe Partnership Called ‘A Positive For The Patients’

BERLIN – Atlantic General Hospital has joined Beebe Healthcare to participate in a program designed to increase collaboration among local physicians. Atlantic General Hospital has been invited by Beebe Healthcare to take part in the Delmarva Health Network, a Medicare Shared Savings Program Accountable Care Organization (ACO). “It’s an opportunity for us to collaborate more and coordinate care better,” said … Continue reading

New OC Council Takes Shape; Martin, Knight Retain Council Leadership Roles

OCEAN CITY – Council President Lloyd Martin and Council Secretary Mary Knight were re-appointed during the Mayor and City Council Organizational Meeting held last Thursday night. Worcester County Chair of the Board of Elections Mary Adeline Bradford read into the record the results of this year’s election at the meeting. There were 2,212 citizens that cast their ballot in person … Continue reading

Amendment Would Allow NASA To Continue Research

BERLIN – A text amendment designed to accommodate scientific research stations — including one run by NASA — in agricultural areas moved one step closer to approval with a favorable recommendation from the Worcester County Planning Commission. Commission members gave their support to the change after hearing how the first such station in Worcester County, operated by NASA in Newark, … Continue reading

Turtle West Sold Million Dollar Lotto Ticket, But Local Winner Slow To Contact State

WEST OCEAN CITY — While the winner’s identity has not been made public, the Greene Turtle in West Ocean City last weekend sold a Maryland Lottery Monopoly Millionaire’s Club winning ticket to a local man who has not come forward to collect as of Thursday. The new multi-state draw game’s top prize of $21 million was won by a player … Continue reading