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Elaine Waldorf Gewirtz

Graduating from high school has its perks, including putting on ceremonial caps and gowns and posing for portraits in the school yearbook. But this year, one participant in the senior section of the Liberty High School yearbook in Henderson, Nevada, was not wearing traditional trappings. In fact, she was not even human.

Therapy Dog Recognition

Who’s that girl? It’s Champion Smilin Dals Pretty in Pink, “Molly,” a 9 1/2-year-old Dalmatian. The certified therapy dog is not graduating from high school anytime soon, but she has earned a place of honor in the Liberty yearbook. For the past five years, Molly and her owner, Paul Beaton of Las Vegas, have visited two special education classes of Liberty students on the autism spectrum.

“When someone showed me the yearbook with Molly’s picture, I felt humbled,” Beaton says. “We crashed the senior section, and I wasn’t expecting that.”

Elaine Waldorf Gewirtz

The treasured annual held other surprises for Beaton. Molly and 9-year-old Tex, a Heeler and Rat Terrier mix and another therapy dog who often teams with the Dalmatian at the school, dominate the centerfold. The two-page spread splashes two dozen images of the kids alongside the dog.

Second Career

For Molly, life in the therapy dog lane began when Beaton adopted her in 2016. “She was retiring as a show dog, and her owner wanted to place her with someone who would give her a job and engage her mind,” recalls Beaton. At the time, Beaton and his 14-year-old Dalmatian, Spirit, volunteered at the library to read with children, but the dog needed a rest. “I wanted to continue working with a Dalmatian, so I agreed to take Molly,” he says.

After earning the AKC Canine Good Citizen title and then the advanced AKC Community Canine title, Beaton contacted Maureen Borosky, the local Love on a Leash® Coordinator, for Molly’s certification as a therapy dog. Borosky and Tex visited a special needs classroom and invited Beaton to bring Molly. “The minute we walked into the classroom, it was magic,” remembers Beaton. “Molly and I clicked with the kids, and we began building a rapport right away.”

Molly took to her new therapy dog career quickly. “It’s like she was born to do this job,” Beaton says. “She pulls me to people and seems to enjoy making strangers happy.”

Elaine Waldorf Gewirtz

How Does Molly Help Special Needs Students?

“These teens need to work on their socialization skills,” Borosky says. “They told us they have no friends at the school, but when they see Molly and Tex, they are so excited that they will do anything with the dogs—including engaging with other students.” With Beaton and Borosky holding one end of a double-handled leash and the students the other, the group walks the dogs into other classes.

Inside the room, the special education students are encouraged to make eye contact or bump fists with other students. “The dogs bridge the gap,” Borosky says. “When regular education students see Molly or Tex, they forget a special education student holds the leash and they talk dogs.”

Molly usually steals the scene, as many students have never seen a Dalmatian before. One student believed the breed only existed in the movie “101 Dalmatians.”

“When we walk into the school, it’s like I have Justin Bieber on a leash—she’s that popular,” Beaton says. “Mostly, I drive the dog here and hold the leash—she does all the work.”

When the teams began walking the dogs, several special education students, including Edgar Hernandez, were afraid of canines. But with Molly and Tex’s help, Hernandez gradually built his confidence. In 2019, Hernandez was voted Prom King, and he recently received certification as a Love on a Leash Junior Handler.

Reads With Children

Molly is not a one-trick-therapy-pony, either. Once a week, Beaton and Molly work at the Reading With Rover program at the Paseo Verde Library in Henderson.

“In February, we were paired to read with Brady, who is on the autism spectrum,” Beaton remembers. “The librarian told us it would take three weeks to get Brady to sit with us.”

But when the boy saw the Dalmatian, he plopped down in the beanbag next to Molly, asked if he could give her a treat, and immediately picked up a book.

Today Brady’s reading level has progressed from level 1 to level 3.

“It’s nice to know that Molly is appreciated and that her work means something,” Beaton says. “But we would still do the job if she didn’t receive the recognition.”

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