A helping paw for special needs students

ALBUQUERQUE (KRQE) – A teacher who works with special needs kids has a new tool to help her kids learn, a service dog. Mrs. Ritamarie Theiler said she’s already seen the children improve with the help of Capetta, a 2-year-old Yellow Labrador Retriever. And she has found a unique way to pay for her.

At first glance, Mrs. Theiler’s class looks pretty standard. She teaches a group of seven special needs children at McCollum Elementary in northeast Albuquerque. A job she admits isn’t always easy.

“It is the most difficult, most wonderful job I’ve ever had,” Theiler said.

Then, Capetta came along.

“Several years ago I was like, I want to get a service dog for the classroom,” Theiler said. “The kids love her, the staff loves her. I just can’t imagine doing this job without her.”

Capetta is now in her second year in the classroom.

“In Autism, some students don’t talk as much and I’ve seen her bring that out, the verbal abilities in some of the kids,” Theiler said.

Theiler says many students simply feel more at ease, more comfortable and best of all she said they are learning more with simply having Capetta around. But her company has come at a cost.

Theiler said service dogs typically run around $20,000, but a Boston-based non-profit is helping her out by bearing some of the financial burden. She will only have to pay $9,500 and she’s doing it through fundraising.

Just this summer, she was one of 30 teachers to win a $2,500 grant from Farmers Insurance as part of their “Thank a Million Teachers” campaign.

It’s an investment Theiler said is priceless.

“When I find the thing that makes the kids connect and makes them understand, it just makes it all worth it.”

Theiler has been teaching special education classes for 13 years.

She said New Mexico’s Autism Society helped play a big role in securing the votes for that $2,500 grant.

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