High school teacher, therapy dog travel to bring comfort to all ages

CHESTER SPRINGS, Pennsylvania -- John DeSantis is a high school teacher at Bishop Shanahan High School in Downingtown, Pennsylvania. And when he is not solving equations, he is becoming part of the solution to anxiety among all ages.

The lover of Rough-Collie dog breeds had always wanted to elevate his own pet to a position where it could serve the community. But DeSantis knew a special dog with the right temperament and training readiness was required for the job.

Then, he met Ingrid.

"I got her about two and a half years ago," he said. "The previous owner couldn't afford to keep her. She needed two different procedures."

DeSantis took in Ingrid and spent four months catching the pup up to speed on her health.

"I think, in a way, I was kind of meant to have her," he said.

Starting in late 2019, DeSantis enrolled Ingrid in therapy dog training. All was going well until the COVID-19 pandemic placed a several-month pause on their efforts. After passing a certification test and completing five different levels of behavior classes, Ingrid was ready to meet her community.

DeSantis and Ingrid can be found visiting area schools from preschool to college level. They also make routine trips to Camilla Hall, home of the Sisters, Servants of the Immaculate Heart of Mary, and various other senior centers. They also pop up and greet shoppers at Hobby Lobby and Citadel Bank.

"We go out and do these visits for free," said DeSantis. "I don't charge. I don't ask for any money. I don't take donations."

DeSantis says the goal is to share his dog's warmth to bring comfort to people of all ages. Action News was there as he visited Saint Matthew's Preschool and Kindergarten in Chester Springs.

"With the pandemic, there's a lot more anxiety types of behaviors that are seeing," he said. "So, the dog therapy visits are good because they break up the boredom and it does help them with their socialization."

Margie Miller's kindergarten class is thrilled whenever Ingrid comes to say hello.

"Especially with where we are right now in the pandemic and the rules that we have to maintain, I think it does help to intersperse things such as recess and surprises like Ingrid," said Miller. "And then they can come back to the academic part of our day and have a little bit of an extra punch of energy for it."

And for the foreseeable future, both DeSantis and Ingrid have enough energy to continue touring throughout Chester County.

"It's amazing the impact that it has on people," he said. "And as long as she's healthy and she's enjoying this, we'll keep doing this."
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