Certified Therapy Dog Enrolled at Nativity Parish School

“Ready to go see your friends at Nativity?”

These magic words get Finley’s tail wagging before heading to school with her owner, David Kearney, principal at Nativity Parish School in Leawood. This fall will mark the second year that Finley has been a certified therapy dog for this local Catholic PK1-8 grade school.

“Finley loves her days at Nativity and all the attention she receives from the students and staff,” Kearney says. “Teachers appreciate Finley because if a student is having a challenging day, it’s a great opportunity to allow them to spend some time with Finley refocusing.”

Kearney says he is proud of how his 3 ½-year-old golden retriever enhances the positive climate at Nativity. On the first day of school, students were delighted to be greeted by Finley who, in accordance with school uniform guidelines, was wearing her little uniform, custom-made by Kearney’s wife, Therese. Finley welcomes students each morning rain or shine, and during rain, she wears her yellow slicker just like her principal.

“Finley fits into our caring community at Nativity because she’s welcoming to all,” Kearney says. “I’m most proud of her ability to help reluctant or tearful kindergartners out of the car during morning drop-off. When I tell the kids that they can help hold Finley’s leash and walk her in, they jump out of the car to do it.”

As a certified therapy dog, Finley is associated with an organization called Pets for Life.

“My wife and I felt that Finley had the disposition and personality to become a good therapy dog,” Kearney explains. “We chose Pets for Life because of its mission to bring care, comfort and smiles to facilities throughout the KC metro. The pets visit schools, hospitals, nursing homes, shelters for domestic violence, mental health programs, treatment centers and correction facilities.”

Kearney says that Pets for Life has a five-step process for dogs (and owners) to become certified:

  1. Orientation

  2. Pre-test

  3. Team evaluation on following basic commands, leaving objects on the floor alone, being touched and petted all over, staying calm with loud noises, and not playing with other dogs on a visit (the most challenging for Finley).

  4. Shadow visit with current certified team member

  5. Observation by team leader at approved site

Kearney says that Finley stays with him most of the day but also has “school moms.”

“The office staff has adopted Finley and gives her lots of attention, and our librarian gives her treats and potty breaks,” Kearney says. “Finley especially loves recess with her friends.”

Finley has even made friends with the hesitant students. (Of course, the school is mindful of students with allergies or aversions to pets. Students are also instructed to follow specific guidelines when interacting with Finley.)

Finley has enjoyed special treatment including treats (especially vanilla ice cream cups from the students), colored pictures posted in the principal’s office, and a guest appearance on the school’s morning TV show.

“Finley is helping to shine a light on Catholic education,” Kearney says. “Not only do we have strong academic programs, including a new STREAM Initiative, we have the best dog ever. Finley loves the students at Nativity, and I hope she can receive their hugs and love for years to come.”