July 5, 2009 in Idaho Voices

Spruce therapy

Time with this toy poodle ‘breaks the barriers’
Laura Umthun lauraumthun@yahoo.com
 
J. BART RAYNIAK photo

“He facilitates learning by encouraging practical and relevent activity,” said Susan Francis, about her therapy dog Spruce. Francis is in private practice and she and her 8-month old toy poodle work with the juvenile justice system, school districts, families and churches.
(Full-size photo)

More information

Contact Susan Francis at pacificeducation@roadrunner.com or at (208) 755-2977.

His name is Spruce and according to his owner, Susan Francis, “he is living up to his name.”

Spruce is an AKC 8-month-old AKC toy poodle therapy dog whose sole mission in life is to “spruce up people’s attitude.”

Francis has worked with clients age 5 through their 80s, clients who have learning disabilities, organic brain disorders, the cognitive impaired, juvenile facility and nursing home residents.

Francis volunteers at nursing homes and tells the story about a resident in her 80s, who hadn’t talked to anyone in several weeks. She allowed Spruce to snuggle with her in bed, and while she stroked Spruce’s fur, slowly began to talk about her own dog. In time, she began to discuss her life, children and people she had loved.

“Spruce breaks the barriers,” says Francis, a Post Falls resident, who shows an obvious passion for her work. “Connection is the key and involving Spruce in academic coaching makes connection possible.”

Experts have been relying on pet therapy as a valuable aid because they truly have the power to heal, according to Francis.

Therapy dogs are trained to be calm, gentle and well-mannered. There are no breed requirements, but Francis chose a poodle because they are smart and do not shed.

Francis was raised in Spokane and is a graduate of Ferris High School. She has taught in public K-12 schools for three decades. She has also taught at Gonzaga University, City University and the University of Idaho graduate schools. She serves as a consultant for parents, students, school districts, juvenile justice programs and churches.

A Phi Beta Kappa and Phi Kappa Phi scholar, according to her Web site, Francis has a private practice in Coeur d’Alene. She has a Pupil Personnel Services Credential with School Psychology Specialization, and a Learning Handicapped Specialist Credential.

Spruce is also helpful with adults who have had negative learning experiences in school as a child.

In her book, “Many Ways to Be Smart: Artisans in Action,” Francis discusses four learning personality types – artisan, guardian, rational, and idealist – societal classes described in Greek philosopher Plato’s “Republic.” She believes each personality has it own unique way of learning. Teachers, without awareness of different ways of learning, often assume that the right way to learn is the way that they have learned.

“Teachers can give a message to the student that there is something wrong with the way they learn when they do not learn the same way,” says Francis.

“Artisans love to work with their hands, be creative, take action, and really use the information they are learning,” says Francis.

Animal therapy brings comfort to those in need and provides unconditional love.

“Animals feel our pain and encourage social interaction and increased activity,” says Francis.

“I have been an educator for three decades seeking effective ways to encourage people and facilitate learning,” says Francis with a chuckle. “It seems what has taken me all this time, Spruce has mastered in just eight months.”

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