Lambert’s Therapy Dog Program: Duck, The Dog Park and Their Impact

On Thursday, April 21, Lambert High School hosted the grand opening of its new dog park. Lambert’s therapy dog program demonstrated the park’s features, offered a puppy meet-and-greet and provided time for attendees to learn about the exciting new addition to the school. 

Mrs. Nicoletti’s students demonstrating the dog park at the grand opening. Taken on April 21, 2022.

In order for Lambert to accomplish such a feat, a long journey of stress-reducing discovery has transpired. The concept of Lunch-and-Learn was curated around 11 years ago in order to give students a designated time to eat, visit their counselor, meet with a teacher and do other daily activities that were previously disrupting class time. Simultaneously, Lambert began hosting an annual graduate focus group titled, “December to Remember,” to get honest feedback about how to improve Lambert to better prepare students for their post-secondary endeavors. The most common response was struggling to utilize unstructured time productively. 

“Unstructured time is the thing that gets us in trouble,” Principal Dr. D said. “Most kids drop out of college because they can’t manage their unstructured time.”

After many edits and iterations, Lunch-and-Learn was officially implemented in 2014. Once this appointed time was established, Lambert started brainstorming ways to give students everything they could possibly need in their hour break; that’s when four-legged Dudley was given the opportunity to prance through Longhorn hallways.  

Dudley was a yellow labrador retriever at Canine Assistants, an organization that works to train and raise service animals. Lambert and Canine Assistants formed a partnership, which allowed Dudley to practice his therapy skills and students to destress during their lunch period. Lambert was curious about the extent to which Dudley and other therapy dogs were impacting their students. Administration conducted a quick, QR-code survey that asked students how stressed they were before meeting with Dudley and after. The results were stellar. Students were significantly more relaxed after visiting with a therapy dog. Many of their responses detailed higher grades, lower test anxiety and overall improved stress management. 

“It was awesome,” Dr. D explained. “We wanted to find a way to do it more.”

Mary Nicoletti, a teacher in one of the special education classrooms, expressed interest in having a permanent on-campus therapy dog for her class. Mrs. Nicoletti was advised to contact a professional dog trainer, Scot Rucker, by Assistant Principal Dr. Johnessee. In what Dr. D described as “serendipitous,” Rucker told Nicoletti he had the perfect dog for her. 

Rucker generously offered a 7-month-old black lab who had failed out of duck training school. Rucker said he had a passion for people and would be the perfect addition to Lambert. Immediately, Duck became the most beloved staff member at Lambert. Everyone addressed him by name and students would reroute their schedules to visit him in the mornings or at lunch.

However, Duck worked in Mrs. Nicoletti’s classroom during the day, which made him unavailable to most Lambert students. As Lambert began to notice the tremendous benefits of therapy dogs, they welcomed more staff members, an English cream retriever named Clover, a charcoal labrador named Charlie and a labradoodle named Maggie.

Dr. D with Duck on his birthday.

As the therapy dog program continued to grow, Lambert began exploring other possible benefits of Duck and the other dogs. 

“We had this crazy idea of instead of the kids in a special needs class being the student, what if they were the teacher?” Dr. D said. “They would be able to teach other kids how to handle the dogs as well. We thought it was the coolest thing ever.”

Mrs. Nicoletti’s students were beyond thrilled at this exciting opportunity, and that’s when the idea of building a dog park was born.

After presenting the idea and its benefits to the Forsyth County Education Foundation, Lambert’s application for a grant was accepted. Since then, the dog park has been a work in progress, but also a symbol for all of the amazing gifts the therapy dog program has provided. For example, the dog park has allowed special needs students to complete a work-based learning internship at Lambert managing the therapy dogs. The therapy dogs have also participated in The Penguin Project, a program that provides a supportive environment for children with disabilities to explore their creative talents. Most recently, they cast a production of Annie Jr. with Lambert High School student Angela Clark starring as Orphan Annie and Duck starring as Sandy alongside her. Additionally, Lambert students have been assisting in dog training at the Sheriff’s Office. As a result, the Sheriff and the Director of School Safety each have their own therapy dogs. The program has also started a small business making “Duck Quackers,” handmade dog treats that Mrs. Nicoletti and her students sell in the community to raise money for the Humane Society of Forsyth County. At the grand opening, they presented the society a $600 check from their Duck Quacker profits.


Lambert’s Dog Park Grand Opening by Taylor Petrofski

Most importantly, however, the therapy dogs have changed the dynamic at Lambert. Aside from the stress-relieving aspect, the relationship between the therapy dogs and the special needs students has allowed students with challenges to gain an immense amount of respect from the community. 

“When one of Mrs. Nicoletti’s students is good with the dog and takes responsibility for managing it, Lambert students start respecting their ability rather than their disability,” Dr. D explained. 

The Lambert Dog Park’s grand opening was a huge success. It showcased all of hard work and dedication of the Lambert therapy dog program. The dog park will create many new and exciting opportunities for Mrs. Nicoletti, Scot Rucker, Lambert’s students and the wonderful dogs. For more information, visit the Lambert Dog Park’s website or contact Dr. Johnesee or Mrs. Nicoletti.