Olathe West Welcomes New Therapy Dog, Birdie


Addison Smith, Writer

A year and a half ago, school counselor Kimberly Wright approached Principal Jay Novacek with an unconventional idea: to use her new lab Birdie as a school therapy dog.

“It was more me approaching Mr. Novacek probably about a year and a half ago to ask him if he would be open to having a therapy dog because I just got a dog and was interested in training her to be a therapy dog,” Wright said. “And he said he would be open to it, but I had to get my dog certified.”

And Wright did just that. Birdie was trained as a therapy or comfort dog, completing a series of training sessions and earning certification.

“So the training is a lot less than a service dog, really the bulk of the training is obedience,” Wright said. “So she had to go through basic obedience training and pass a basic obedience test, and then there’s something called a good canine citizen test, and it’s kind of like the next step in the training.”

Part of Birdie’s training was visiting places like nursing homes and being around those wheelchair-bound, loud noises and little kids. 

“The final step is to go through classes to be a therapy dog and so the training to be a therapy dog is a lot more of being around loud noises,” Wright said. “People that are in wheelchairs and walkers and loud noises and screaming. Things that might be disruptive to a dog.  And then she had to pass a test that involved going to a nursing home a few times and making sure she was calm and happy, and we went to a place with little kids where she could practice being around them.

Finally, Birdie completed her training and became Olathe West’s therapy dog. Wright began bringing Birdie to school regularly and set up “Birdie visits” for students.

“[Birdie] would just make herself available to be pet, and sometimes go on walks outside, and if someone’s feeling upset we can take Birdie out with us and go for a walk outside,” Wright said. “But most of the time she’s just here to let somebody pet her, and interact with her, give her treats, and play with her toys.”

Wright describes Birdie as a “big happy lab” and brings her to school regularly for students to meet with her.

“Just like you would make an appointment to see your school counselor through Calendly, you would make an appointment with me and one of the options is a fifteen-minute Birdie visit,” Wright said.