My name is Katie Villarreal. I am a high school Life Skills teacher in the Buffalo Independent School District. My Life Skills class is comprised of six students withvarious disabilities ranging from Autism, Down Syndrome, Social Emotional difficulties, and learning differences. I pursued the opportunity offered by Amanda Davis and Bella’sBuddies for a school support dog this school year. After a very difficult year of schoolclosing due to COVID-19 in the spring of 2020, I knew that, despite the good fortune ofour own school reopening for 2020-21, the return to “normalcy” would present many challenges.
Many of our students are economically disadvantaged and that, combinedwith the lack consistency of academic and emotional support they receive during aschool day, would require a great deal of extra intervention. Additionally, I personally needed to be a part of something positive, even if it was being a part of something small, to ready myself to help our students. Enter Lollie, a standard poodle my familyand I met at the Davis home in August of 2020. I immediately knew she was going to be the one. It is difficult to describe Lollie in just one word. She is gentle, beautiful, welcoming, and above all, uncannily intuitive. From the first day she made her entrance into room 310 and introduced herself to my special needs students with a wagging tailand calming demeanor, she was effective and loved.
Suddenly, the anxiety of wearing masks in the classroom and following the arrows on the floors of the hallways, wasn’t so scary. A student with severe autism, who was unable to walk in the hallways to classes and the cafeteria due to the anxiety of a face shield and the distractions of the bright blue arrows to distance the students, was able to do so when he could take Lollie with him on her leash. I saw more spoken words come from my student with Down Syndrome. Students who were not happy to attend school each day with the myriad of COVID restrictions and limitations, were excited to return. My kids were happy. But Lollie didn’t stop there. As she settled in to the routine of our day in Life Skills, I began to take her to other classes and offered to share her with the rest of the student population who needed her. Her intuition led her to so many students in need of support. It was fascinating to watch her seek out those kids, winding through the masses of high schoolers receiving pats and scratches, to finally stop, sit, and offer apaw to a student who sat alone.
As the school year progressed, the faculty began to contact me about specific students they felt would benefit from Lollie’s presence. Ageneral education student, who was pursuing a certification as a vet tech, had severe anxiety about class presentations necessary to earn the credit she needed. In short order, she was able to achieve this with more ease with Lollie sitting with her. She successfully completed her course and received the certification by the end of the school year. The impact Lollie had on the entire student body, as well as our faculty and administrators, has been incredible. In addition to visiting every classroom on campus, she attended football games, pep rallies, participated in school “dress up” days, and traveled to our other campuses with student organizations. She lives for her purposeand is happy and ready to don her working vest adorned with the Buffalo Bison, Bella’s Buddies, and NRG logos.
Lollie is a fixture in our little town now. So many have been positively effected by her and I am grateful for the opportunity to be a part of it all.Above all, I am grateful for Bella’s Buddies and for the sponsors, like NRG, whorecognize the importance of this program.