Dog days are over as Benson hits paws on career

On International Dog Day we visit a high school as it prepares to farewell a furry friend. Kerrie O’Connor shares his story.

A dog sitting at a desk with a group of students A dog sitting at a desk with a group of students
Image: A human ate my homework: Benson joins in with students at Lake Illawarra High School.

A golden Labrador who has been lighting up the faces of students for almost a decade is about to retire from his teaching duties.

Benson is believed to have been the first Assistance Dog enrolled in a NSW school – and he’s passed all his exams with flying colours.

The 11-year-old has brought smiles to The Harbour Centre at Lake Illawarra High School since 2013.

His owner, acting head teacher Ryan Olender, knows first-hand the difference Benson makes at the special education centre.

“Any anxiety, stress and tension the students might be feeling is alleviated instantly,” Mr Olender said.

He said students became calmer and more engaged when Benson entered the room.

“There is an immediate response,” he said.

Principal Tony Hicks said Benson’s arrival had made a difference at the school.

“He’s been a really calming influence to a number of students and a lot of staff as well,” Mr Hicks said.

He said Benson had all the best traits of a Labrador and seemed able to sense which students needed his attention.

Watching “the change in the students” had been the best thing for Mr Olender since Benson arrived as an 18-month-old youngster.

“Benson is a cheeky dog, who sometimes makes mistakes, and lets students know it is okay for them to make mistakes too,” he said.

“He seems to be able to sense which student needs something extra that day and he will go and lie at their feet.”

The idea of taking another younger assistance dog has been raised with Mr Olender, but he is torn.

“I don’t like the idea of taking another dog to school and leaving Benson behind,” he said.

“We have built such a strong bond.”

When Benson’s role at the school ends, Mr Olender will formally adopt him – and their morning and afternoon long walks and romps will continue.


Benson's story
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