WEBB CITY, Mo. — When you think of a service or emotional support animal, dogs likely come to mind. While many different breeds of canines are used in that capacity, the Webb City School District decided to go a different route with an entirely different animal to fill that role.
In 2020, Webb City Elementary Counselor, Brookli Pollock, did her homework and discovered just how expensive it can be to have a dog as an emotional support animal.
“Therapy dogs are really popular now, but they are very expensive and they require a tremendous amount of training. I have three dogs of my own at home, and none of them will even listen,” she said.
After researching other animals that work well as emotional support pets, Pollock decided that a cold-blooded reptile would be the way to go. That’s when Ruby, a bearded dragon, officially became a Webb City Cardinal, working with Pollock in the elementary counselor’s office each day and going home with her when the day is over.
While it may seem an unusual choice to select a bearded dragon over a dog or cat as an emotional support animal, having a reptile species holds several distinct advantages.
SLIDESHOW: View Photos of Ruby the Bearded Dragon Hard At Work
Reptiles are considered to be lower maintenance and are known for their calm and relaxed demeanor. Unlike emotional support dogs, they are known to be laid back across a variety of situations, as long as they feel safe.
As the only animal in the Webb City School District, Ruby travels with Pollock each day between Eugene Field and Mark Twain Elementary. Pollock is able to use Ruby in a variety of situations that benefit elementary-age students.
“I use books that are based on dragons, such as “How To Train Your Dragon.” The lesson I use in that scenario with Ruby is teaching from that book in regards to, ‘train your dragon to love himself; train your angry dragon.’ And it’s just about different social-emotional learning. I like to tie in book activities with Ruby and the kids. Also, Ruby likes to walk around and observe students at work. He really likes to be petted by those students who are working hard and it’s just a fun way to get the kids to be more excited about doing the activity at hand, and really invest more time and effort into their assignment, rather than, like, ‘oh, I’m just going to quickly color this picture,” said Pollock.
Although he may be inclined to seek out more than his fair share of daily belly rubs, Pollock says students and teachers alike see Ruby as a role model— one that will never pass judgment.
“Say, a teacher e-mails me and says, ‘one of my students was pretty upset this morning and isn’t having a productive day,’ so it’s just like a good opener for me to meet with that child and say, ‘you know, Ruby heard you were really upset this morning and you cried when you came in the building. He’s been so worried about you.’ That way, the child doesn’t have to worry. Or, if kids are uncomfortable saying something to me, like, ‘I don’t want to say it because, you know, ‘you can’t say bad words,’ or, ‘I’ll get in trouble if I say a bad word,’ and then I can say, ‘well it’s okay if you tell Ruby. He wants to hear and he won’t get mad.’ That really makes them feel comfortable. I’ve noticed that our elementary kids talking about issues with Ruby around, makes them open up and feel comfortable talking about whatever it is they need to get off their mind,” said Pollock.
Pollock believes that the elementary students she works with see Ruby as a constant, unwavering person they can express their feelings to and talk about whatever is on their mind, without feeling any sense of judgment or shame.
“To our kids, and often to our staff, it’s like Ruby is just another person, in another role here in the counselor’s office, that cares about everyone in the two elementary buildings that we go to. He wants kids to be safe and he wants them to feel safe and feel good. And so Ruby is trying to help, too, just as much as I am. To be able to express yourself, to feel comfortable at school, to feel safe and know that there’s trusting adults here that love our students, it’s like Ruby is one of those trusting adults that our kids can, and do, feel comfortable around,” said Pollock.
Ruby may struggle to fetch things like a dog can, however, Pollock says these brilliant reptiles can provide a sense of purpose and satisfaction when those around them are in their lowest moments.
“Ruby plays an important role here at Webb City elementary schools, giving kids at that impressionable age, someone or something to make them feel cared about and special in their own individual way,” said Pollock.
If you would like to learn more about Ruby the Bearded Dragon, or see photo’s of the reptile at work, you can visit his personal Facebook Pages below: