1260a-550?v=1

Meet Hank: Pleasant Lea Middle School's Therapy Dog

Even though Hank Leach has enjoyed the dog days of summer with long boat rides, lots of time outside playing ball and the occasional pup cup treat, he is ready for the excitement and routine of going back to school. 

Hank, a 2-year-old F1 Bernadoodle, joined the “staff” at Pleasant Lea Middle School (PLMS) last spring as a therapy dog. Certified as a team, Hank works alongside his owner, Autumn Leach. Autumn began her career in the Lee’s Summit School District in 2005 as a licensed speech pathologist and transitioned to her current role as an Instructional Evaluation Specialist about six years ago. Autumn’s position supports the Special Education Department at PLMS, but she also helps problem-solve with teachers and teams to assist students with learning styles or behavior management challenges. 

While Hank was purchased as a pet for the Leach family, Autumn says his personality and calm temperament are in line with those of a therapy dog. Hank is eager to please and loves being around people. Autumn lovingly refers to Hank as her “Velcro dog” because he wants to go wherever she goes!

In 2022, Autumn was part of a team at PLMS that looked at building needs and ways to foster growth and community within the building. They started to investigate the option of a therapy dog for the school. At that point, Autumn offered Hank as a candidate. 

To prepare for his potential new role, Hank and Autumn began the assessment and certification process through Pets For Life KC, a non-profit organization. After a series of tests and supervised visits, Hank and Autumn were certified in March 2023.

Incorporating therapy dogs into educational settings is becoming more prevalent as administrators look for ways to build connections with students. Autumn says she can already see the impact Hank is having on students at PLMS. 

“Some students visit the counseling office on a regular basis for a variety of supports. Most of them have built a relationship with Hank; they can come in and sit on the floor with Hank and pet him, maybe roll a ball or play with him for a few minutes and then return to class. He has been able to help kids get through their day when they otherwise may have hit a roadblock or may have needed an additional layer of support. Hank is a positive distraction.”

There is also the opportunity for students who are high energy and need a lot of movement to connect with Hank and Autumn for their morning walk around the building. “They join us, get some energy out and then transition back to class,” Autumn says. 

Hank sets up shop right across from the principal's office, and Principal Linquist sees this as a benefit. He says, “No matter what age you are, the word ‘principal’ has a stigma. But now, if a student is called up to my office, the first thing they are going to see is Hank, and he sets the tone of welcoming them and helping them feel like everything is going to be okay. Hank provides another opportunity to make students feel safe and welcomed.”

Mr. Linquist continues, “Hank has a significant impact on our building. He is the happiest dog around. The minute he sees someone, anyone, he greets them and lays back down. But, if a student comes in and needs support, he seems to know the difference. He is good at calming down a student quickly. He will nuzzle with them and gives them something positive to focus on. It allows us to process the situation and get a resolution faster than we could without Hank.”

Related Businesses

Museum at Prairiefire

Museums + Art Galleries

Museum at Prairiefire

Overland Park, KS

The Museum at Prairiefire provides ACCESS FOR ALL to understand and celebrate natural history and science. The Museum is open...

Nashville Zoo

Botanical Gardens

Nashville Zoo

Nashville, TN

Nashville Zoo is a progressive and dynamic zoological park serving Middle Tennessee, southern Kentucky and hundreds of...

Powell Gardens

Botanical Gardens

Powell Gardens

Kingsville, MO

Powell Gardens, Kansas City’s botanical garden, is set on 970 acres of lush, rolling hills. Known for its contemporary...

See More

Related Articles

See More