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Popular therapy dog suspended at La Paloma

Rick Monroe

Special to the Village News

Where's Sandy? The therapy dog at La Paloma Elementary has apparently been suspended.

School counselor Alida Leonard has brought Sandy to the school the past three years after the dog was certified by Pet Partners as a therapy dog. Sandy was a hit in popularity and by providing practical solutions for students in emotional or traumatic situations.

She brings a smile to all the students on campus, Leonard said.

However, when a teacher at another school in the district wanted to bring her dog to school and was denied, Sandy was forced to stay home while district administrators determined a policy.

Sandy's photo is still one of the featured images on La Paloma's web page, but after more than a month, students are wondering when they will see Sandy again.

Dale Leonard, Alida's husband and a teacher at La Paloma, brought the situation to the school board of the Fallbrook Union Elementary School District at its Oct. 3 meeting during the public comments period.

The previous principal at the school received district approval for Sandy to be on campus and the new principal, Claudia D'Leon, is supportive, he said.

"The services provided by Sandy as a licensed therapy dog are irreplaceable and integral to the well-being of our students she serves at La Paloma Elementary," he added.

Four others spoke at the meeting about the value of Sandy, including Alida. "I bring her for the kids," she told the board. "It's a lot of work and I never leave her during the day."

Alida described how students are motivated to receive attention from Sandy and said, "She makes an impact." She noted that Sandy was a rescue dog she brought home from a parking lot in Temecula six years ago.

Tressie Armstrong, retired principal at Kelly Elementary School in Carlsbad, said therapy dogs have been part of the school there for years and are "definitely good for the kids." She said Alida is a friend and that she encouraged her to have Sandy certified.

Sophia Robles, also a counselor from La Paloma, and one other staff person from the school gave praise of Sandy's value.

School board members are not allowed to respond to comments but agreed to have a status report at a future meeting. The next board meeting was on Oct. 17.


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