20 November

Video: Zinnia Takes Bishop Maginn By Storm

by Jon Katz

I took Zinnia to Bishop Maginn High School today in Albany, and the visit was successful far beyond my expectations. It was a wonderful experience, for me, for Zinnia, for Maria, for the students.

I brought Zinnia to my Writing Workshop – we didn’t get much writing done- and I explained that I wanted the students to get down on the floor and let her come to them and move freely.

We also visited Sue Silverstein’s art class and walked the hallways a bit.

Zinnia was not the least bit timid or fearful or intimidated, she went from student to student, got her belly scratched, tried to gnaw on fingers (I gave instructions on using alternate behavior techniques).

Sue Silverstein had a bunch of stuffed animals and chew toys; Zinnia had great fun playing with them, playing tug of war, and passing them along.

She is ideally suited to therapy work; she is calm, affectionate, and responsive. Even the loud electric bells didn’t rattle her, neither did the crowds of students moving between classes.

She came to me every time I called her, even when she was in the middle of a crowd.

Maria came with us, and she kept an eye on Zinnia when I was teaching or distracted. We both thought she did beautifully; it could not have gone better. Zinnia has never been in a large building like that, she has never seen so many diverse and different people, compared to our farm and our small town.

She loved the kids, and they loved her back, and she fell asleep snoring on the back seat of the car. We didn’t even need to crate her.

I asked that no treats or good be given to her, and the students honored that. Zinnia had a blast; her tail was going for an hour; she seemed delighted to meet everybody. I asked that the students not pick her up or hug her, and they honored that as well (except for Sue, of course, that was entirely predictable.)

You could cut the love this dog got today with a knife at that school, how good for her to experience that in her first tentative foray as a therapy dog. I can’t imagine a better or more loving place to bring her.

I asked that the not be mobbed, and she wasn’t. She always had space to move in, and some choice in where to go. She loved being around those kids. They helped her to chew on appropriate toys rather than their fingers, she’s getting that.

When the crowd around her got too big, or things got too crowded, we moved to the music room, which was empty and brought in students two or three at a time. It was precisely the kind of positive experience I had been waiting for her. She’ll be a regular presence there.

She was great, and the kids were great. Because of the cement terrain outside, Zinnia didn’t know where to pee and she had one accident in the school. By the time we left, she figured out that you can pee on cement. Nobody cared.

I then met with six students who volunteered to work with me as Zinna Therapy Dog Coaches all during the school year. We’re going to work together to train Zinnia and monitor and share her progress. We’ll meet regularly, and I’ll teach dog training to them.

I was especially interested in the four or five students who told me they had always been afraid of dogs (some refugee children are terrified of them). I got each one to come up to Zinnia and pet her, and each one said they would love to see more of her. They will.

I love this idea of training directly with the students; I can teach therapy dog training as well as live it. I did a short video with two of the volunteer coaches (above). It was a great day, and I’m more excited than ever about the work I will be doing with this dog.


  1. You have clearly ruined this little soul and you might as well give her away now. (OK … If you insist … Zinnia can come and live with me. ) Actually … thanks for sharing this sweet story.

  2. Jon, thanks so much for this video. My mother is currently in hospital awaiting some tests and I’ve been very worried and distracted all day. Watching Zinnia with the kids made me smile and relax for the first time since yesterday. It proves something I’ve long suspected – therapy dogs not only help people in person, it also works via video from thousands of miles away. I’ll sleep better tonight.

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