ELLSWORTH -- Most dogs get excited when they hear the word “treat” or “walk,” but for Frannie the therapy dog the word “school” is what gets her tail wagging.

When Ellsworth schools began to shut down in response to the public health crisis, Frannie and owner Katie Deiss figured out a way to stay connected with their students and human friends.

Every weekday at 1 p.m. Frannie and Deiss log onto Frannie’s Facebook account to host a live interactive video experience. The two sit together while Deiss reads a story and chats with the student audience. Meanwhile, Frannie peacefully lays next to Deiss, gives a paw wave to the camera and shows off her high-fiving skills.

“Frannie is definitely a wellspring of joy, just positive, there is nothing negative that can come from her,” Deiss said.

The two and a half-year-old Labradoodle works as a therapy dog at Ellsworth Elementary. Frannie’s calm demeanor makes her an excellent therapy dog, according to Deiss. She does not bark much and loves being pet by multiple people at a time. For the last year and a half Frannie would vest up, go to school with Deiss and engage with students.

Katie Deiss always dreamed of having a therapy dog that could accompany her to school. She says Frannie just fell into her arms. Previously a family-friend had owned Frannie and needed to rehome her. “I said ‘I want her’ and it was just kind of by chance that we got her,” Deiss said. Photo courtesy of Katie Deiss
Katie Deiss always dreamed of having a therapy dog that could accompany her to school. She says Frannie just fell into her arms. Previously a family-friend had owned Frannie and needed to rehome her. “I said ‘I want her’ and it was just kind of by chance that we got her,” Deiss said. Photo courtesy of Katie Deiss

“She is their dog just as much as she is mine,” Deiss said.

Deiss works as a special education teacher for emotional and behavioral students. She teaches social skills and self regulation to students.

With the limitations imposed by social distancing, Deiss had to get creative on how to connect with students.

“I needed a fun engaging way for students to want to and Frannie is the perfect tool for that,” Deiss said. “What better way to connect with people then using social media?”

Deiss knew she would not be able to reach every student via Zoom or email.

“So I thought most people have Facebook, let's make Frannie a Facebook,” she said.

Each virtual visit encourages Deiss’ students to engage in the comment section, ask questions, say hello, tell stories, share their favorite part of the day or their plans for the weekend. The live videos give students the opportunity to hang out with Frannie once again.

Deiss also created a reading calendar to showcase which books planned to read. While most days they read together, some days Frannie and Deiss might go for a walk or chat with the audience.

Engagement on Facebook is strong, Frannie currently has over 500 friends. Daily videos pull in several comments and views range from dozens to hundreds.

“I've had parents that have told me they are setting their alarm clocks for 1 o’clock. I've had teachers making sure they are telling their students that this is an option,” Deiss said.

You could say Frannie is one (paw)pular girl.

“This is just Frannie and I’s way of putting our best foot forward and doing what we can,” Deiss said. “I think we are just having a lot of fun, there is no rule book for this kind of thing.”