'Face of the library'

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by Bennett Horne, courtesy of Harrison Daily Times

Some people may say Dewey the Bearded Dragon has a face only a mother could love.

But in Lead Hill (AR) it’s a face the entire school district loves.  “He’s the face of the library. He’s our mascot,” said Dewey’s owner, Amy Curtis, who is the Library Media Specialist for the Lead Hill School District.

Since last summer he’s actually been more than just the mascot.

In July, Dewey was certified as an emotional behavioral therapy animal after Curtis realized he had a certain calming effect on students, especially those who struggled with attention, anxiety and stress-related issues.

“We started realizing kids who had a very difficult time paying attention in class or were struggling emotionally for various reasons, or were stressed, that once they sat with Dewey they would calm very quickly,” said Curtis. “He helps them relax. That’s when we got the idea of going ahead and registering him for emotional support and behavior therapy.”

Curtis began researching how to get animals registered to be therapy animals.

“Of course I wanted to make sure it was a verifiable business,” she said. “I found one that’s registered with the Better Business Bureau and has an A-plus rating. I contacted them and we went through an interview and then we got him registered as an emotional support and therapy animal.”

Dewey, whose registration lasts for five years, isn’t like most service animals, which have to go through intensive training.

“This is not an animal I can take into a restaurant like you can with other service animals,” said Curtis. “There are certain limitations. He’s not like a dog for the blind or the handicapped. He’s an animal that gives emotional support and support for behavioral issues. So it’s not like I can take him anywhere and treat him like he’s a service animal.”

Curtis knows there are some who might think of this as an opportunity for some to abuse the system, having seen it happen where some get privileges by saying their pet is a therapy animal. She assured that wouldn’t be the case with Dewey.

“I think a lot of people are concerned about abuse of that because that has happened,” she said. “I don’t want people to think that’s what I plan to do because I don’t.”

The plan is simply to help students in the district that can be helped by Dewey’s presence.

“We have one young boy who, especially this semester, sometimes bounces around like a jackrabbit,” Curtis said. “Sometimes he gets a little overly so. So his teachers will send him down here to see Dewey to in essence help him reset. Even though he’s bouncing off the walls in the classroom, as soon as he’s with Dewey he’s very calm and relaxed. He plays with Dewey and is incredibly gentle with him. He just remembers he needs to be a little quieter and gentle with Dewey.

“He’ll spend about 10 minutes with Dewey and then he’ll go back to class and is usually good for a couple more hours,” she continued. “Sometimes he comes in a couple of times a day.”

Dewey’s calming influence has an effect on the kids, Curtis noted, adding, “There are times when we ask them, ‘Do you need some Dewey time?’ And they’ll say, ‘Yes I do.’”  Curtis and the other teachers try to limit “Dewey time” to 10 minutes per student.  “I was concerned at first that kids would try to abuse that, however I’ve never experienced that,” said Curtis.

Curtis, who started at Lead Hill in September 2015, purchased Dewey the next month when he was four to five inches long. He’s now about three years old.

“I really wanted a library pet but didn’t want something furry because I was concerned that some kids may be allergic,” said Curtis. “He loves playing with the kids. When he’s in his pen or the aquarium he will try to climb out or crawl out. Sometimes he’s successful and will run to them.”

The kids love seeing Dewey just as much as he loves seeing them.

“The kids adore him. They get all excited and love seeing him,” said Curtis. “He’s pretty accustomed to the kids, especially the bigger kids. The high school kids know they can come up to him, pick him up and walk around with him on their shoulders. With the younger kids I carry him and they get to pet him.”

Sometimes, though, Dewey needs a break.

“If he starts getting antsy where he’s trying to climb up my shoulder or across my back then I’ll set him in his cage and tell the kids that he needs his quiet time,” she said. “They understand that because we all need our quiet time.”