Hamburg Area High School sophomore Mason Ansel, 16, who has Usher syndrome type II, which affects his vision and hearing, has been visiting with therapy dog in training, Wolfgang, in the school library.
“Wolfie makes me feel really happy. He makes me calm,” said Mason who has been visiting Wolfgang since October. “He always lays on me and likes to play with me. He likes to lick me a lot.”
Mason said he feels sad when he doesn’t get to see Wolfgang because he is his best furry friend.
“He started coming over and he really hit it off with Wolfie,” said Kelly James, personal care aide who assists Mason navigate the classroom and school with everyday activities. “He lights up when he sees Wolfgang. It’s a treat for him.”
If in a bad mood, a visit with Wolfgang raises his spirits. James said visiting with Wolfgang definitely benefits Mason. In addition to keeping Mason calm and happy, the visits motivate him to complete his class work.
“There’s a special bond between the two of them. He’ll see Mason come in the morning, and Wolfgang will immediately sit and wait for Mason to come up and pet him. They love each other,” said James. “They’re really good together. Wolfie is an amazing dog.”
Hamburg High School Librarian Teresa McCarthy has been raising the German Shepherd since puppyhood, brining Wolfgang to school everyday during training to be a seeing eye dog. When Wolfgang failed his seeing eye dog test due to creating dog distractions, McCarthy began to look for an alternate career path for Wolfgang. He is now enrolled in the therapy dog training program.
“The irony for me is that Wolfgang was rejected from the seeing eye dog program for dog distraction yet here he is making an impact with a visually impaired person everyday,” said McCarthy. “Mason comes in to see Wolfgang. He just loves Wolfgang and Wolfgang loves him.”
The duo will sit together on the floor of the school library, Wolfgang with his head in Mason’s lap. They play ball together, Mason laughing and smiling as Wolfgang runs after the tennis ball. Almost as if Wolfgang is smiling, his tongue flops out of his mouth as Mason rubs his belly.
“Wolfgang is very gentle with everyone but with Mason he is even more gentle,” said McCarthy.
Wanting to show his love and appreciation of Wolfgang, Mason made a braille art picture of a dog in braille class, using braille to create the picture and says, “My dog friend. To Wolfie, from Mason.”
“It’s nice that they have a bond,” said McCarthy. “He made art with a braille machine and is using his talents that he has to show his love and appreciation that Wolfgang is here for him, to brighten his day and make him happy.”
Wolfgang is enrolled in Therapy Dog International. His test is scheduled for the day before Easter. There are 13 things that Wolfgang and McCarthy have to do together to pass, said McCarthy.
“He’s so smart. He learns things so quickly and a lot of it he did know from the training that I did with him for a year and a half (for seeing eye dog). So after he passes the (therapy dog) test, I can continue taking him places, hospitals, nursing homes,” said McCarthy, who plans to get another puppy to raise. “He’s just so good around people.”
McCarthy has been told by students that Wolfgang really calms them down and brings them happiness. If having a bad day, students come to the library to visit with Wolfgang. Wolfgang is a member of the Hamburg Area High School family, she said.
“They just really enjoy having him here,” said McCarthy.
She hopes visits with Wolfgang improve academics. While she has not done any studies, McCarthy believes there would be a correlation.
“The whole irony for me is that Wolfgang couldn’t be a seeing eye dog yet he’s still so important in the life of this visually impaired student. It was meant to be,” said McCarthy. “At the seeing eye, they call it a career change... It’s a happy ending. He’s still helping people and will continue to... He’s not done working, he’s just getting started.”