KACIE GOODE/The Kentucky Standard
A student hugs Merle while enjoying the dog's company inside Nicole Britton's classroom at Bardstown Elementary. Merle is trained to support children with special needs.
Mornings with Merle: Classroom canine assists students

As Merle moves into Eli’s lap, the youngster responds by leaning in for a gentle hug. Sitting with Merle is part of a new routine for many students at Bardstown Elementary School, as the 3-year-old Australian shepherd/poodle mix has been custom trained to assist children with special needs.

“He has been trained specifically to support students with sensory disabilities and communication issues, and to be an all-around buddy for kids who need a little help,” said Nicole Britton, Merle’s owner and a new special education teacher at BES.