It was always her ambition to work in special needs education, and a stint of work experience, at just 11 years old in Ireland, cemented her desire.
“I thought ‘this is it, this is what I want to do forever’. And I haven’t changed. I love it with all my heart ... and this, having a companion dog, is just the icing on the cake.”
Putting aside $500 every fortnight, Rand took a year to save $10,000 to purchase a therapy dog for her classroom.
She introduced Hannah, a St Bernard, to her students this year, and it’s an understatement to say that she is happy with her personal sacrifice.
Socialisation is particularly problematic for special needs students, with most of them wanting friends but not knowing how to make them. Taking Hannah for a walk around the school at recess and lunchtime now sees other students flocking with excitement around the special needs kids.
Rand is delighted to watch the emotional benefits flow to her students, and also to the adult support staff in the room. As soon as Hannah enters the classroom, everyone’s mood is lifted. She lessens boredom and anxiety levels.
“I have a student who is selectively mute, and she will not talk unless she wants to. So Hannah makes her talk. Hannah has made her into a little chatterbox,” Rand says, laughing.
The school community is thrilled with Hannah too. The P&C committee has so far committed $2000 towards her ongoing training.
As a companion animal, Hannah receives regular guidance to help her become a good canine citizen, plus schooling to master the specific skills required of her as a therapy dog for special needs children.
She has learnt to retrieve a mobile phone for Rand in an emergency, and is learning to pull a wheelchair and to remind staff when a student needs to take medication.
Despite not being specifically trained to do so, Hannah also alerts staff when a student is sick with fever.
The success of Rand’s initiative may be best measured in the rising St Bernard population of Broome; Hannah has inspired two families with special needs children at the school to buy a St Bernard puppy.