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Therapy Dogs Bring Joy to All at Cedar Lane

January 9th, 2024

A Cedar Lane student in a wheelchair smiles while petting a therapy dog.

Chewie the golden retriever and his owner, Ronnie, are constantly on the go. Together, they travel all over the Washington, D.C., metro area representing Fidos for Freedom, a nonprofit, volunteer-based organization that provides service, hearing and therapy dogs to people with a host of different needs. Just last year, they conducted 185 visits to schools, libraries, veterans’ organizations, and more—all with one goal in mind: bringing people comfort and joy.

A goldendoodle kisses a Cedar Lane student in a wheelchair.

Cedar Lane School (CLS) is one of the many stops on Chewie and Ronnie’s circuit, and it’s one of their favorites.

“We go to a lot of schools, but CLS is a special one for us,” Ronnie says. “CLS students come to life when they see and pet Chewie. It’s really gratifying.”

A Cedar Lane student kisses a golden retriever during a Fidos for Freedom visit.

CLS paraeducator Katie Ashburn, who organizes the Fidos’ visits to CLS, agrees.

“You can see the joy in the kids’ faces. They really respond to the dogs,” she says. “Even the students who may be hesitant in the beginning to pet the dogs get more comfortable interacting with them and grow to really enjoy them as the year goes on.”

Bonnie, a retired Howard County educator and long-time Fidos volunteer, says that in addition to the students, Fidos’ visits bring joy to CLS staff.

A Cedar Lane staff person pets a thearpy dog.

“They all really enjoy it. The visits give everyone something to look forward to and also provide a nice break in the routine,” she says.

Dogs in the Fidos for Freedom program undergo an extensive training and evaluation process to ensure that they are up to the task of visiting schools. As part of that process, they receive obedience training, where they work on mastering several commands (i.e. “sit,” “stay,” “come,” etc.). They also take a temperament test and participate in several exercises to assess their readiness to interact with other dogs (Fidos’ visits often include multiple dogs) and people.

A golden retriever stands up on a Cedar Lane student's wheelchair.

“We expose the dogs to things they might see while they’re out doing visits,” Bonnie explains. “We’ll drop a book on the floor, make lots of noise, tug on a dog’s ear, bring in a wheelchair. We see how the dog reacts and use that information to help decide if a dog is ready to go on visits.”

Ultimately, the experience of bringing therapy dogs to CLS is one that benefits everyone involved, Ronnie says.

Two Cedar Lane students interact with a dog and volunteer from Fidos for Freedom.

“Chewie loves all the pets and the attention. The kids and the staff really enjoy it. I enjoy it. And the reason is simple: animals are easy to love.”

CLS Principal Paul Owens echoes Ronnie’s sentiments, noting “The Fidos program has been bringing joy to our school for over 10 years. Visits with dogs like Chewie encourage our students to practice communication, mobility, and social interaction skills. Our partnership with Fidos is a benefit to the entire community.”

A student in a wheelchair claps and smiles while interacting with a dog.