Ms. Hartness and Asha
As part of the Empowering Writers program, 3rd grade students at Chapin Street School are beginning a unit that focuses on service animals. Knowing the importance for the students to have the opportunity to make personal connections to enhance their writing experience, Chapin Street Principal, Mrs. Nikki Reed invited Ms. Kristin Hartness, Executive Director of Canines for Disabled Kids, based in Worcester, MA, to speak to the students about how service dogs enhance the lives of many who have a disability.
The presentation began with Hartness introducing herself and her working service dog of five years, Asha, a short haired collie. She then asked students if they could tell her the definition of the word disability. Following many thoughtful responses from students, Hartness summarized their answers, “A disability is when your body can’t do certain things. Part of your body doesn’t work the way it’s suppose to work and you may need a little bit of help do things that others can do without help.”
Hartness shared that her disability is Multiple Sclerosis, which affects her nervous system, making it difficult for her to walk and restricting her independence. She explained, “In addition to helping me walk, Asha also helps me do things I physically can’t do, like pick things up from the floor. He helps me be more independent. I have six legs- two are mine and four belong to Asha.”
Students were fascinated watching Asha work, as he assisted Hartness with picking up a pen from the floor. “This is just one of the many things Asha helps me with throughout the day.”
Students learned that service dogs start training when they are six months old and typically complete the training when they reach the age of two. Hartness explained that service dogs are taught different skills depending on the person they will be helping and that to receive their certification as a service dog they must pass all of their tests with a score of 100%.
Hartness explained, “Any place people can go, a person can bring their service dog. A service dog is a tool, just like my eyeglasses are a tool to help me see better. So if someone wearing eyeglasses can go to the movies, grocery stores, restaurants, libraries and fly on an airplane, than so can a service dog.”
Before leaving Hartness reminded students to be respectful of service dogs when they are working. “If you see a service dog always ask permission to pet the dog. You can say- Is your dog working? Can I pet him, please? And if the person says no, it is because the dog is working, and just like when we are solving a math problem, it is important to let him focus and do his work.”
Hartness was pleased with the overwhelming positive reception given to her, and Asha, from the students at Chapin Street School, “Public awareness and education are very important to us. I welcome the opportunity to spread the word about our important work. It’s especially heartwarming when we can spread awareness to students at this young age.”
“The students were very respectful and engaged during the presentation,” added Reed. “They asked relevant and thoughtful questions. It was a wonderful learning experience for everyone, including myself. I am very thankful that Ms. Hartness volunteered to share her personal story with our students. Now that they have met Asha, I can’t wait to read some of the student generated essays that will be written about service dogs.”