Ricchetti wins statewide award for teaching service-dog programs

— Photo from the National Association of Social Workers’ New York State Chapter. 
Statewide recognition: Catherine Ricchetti speaks at the awards ceremony on Sept. 14 where she was honored as Social Worker of the Year by the New York State chapter of the National Association of Social Workers. Ricchetti regularly speaks to statewide groups of social workers, school psychologists, and others about how to implement a service-dog program. 

GUILDERLAND — Social worker Catherine Ricchetti of the Guilderland school district was honored on Sept. 14 as the Social Worker of the Year by the National Association of Social Workers’ New York State Chapter.

Ricchetti helped launch the Guilderland school district’s service-dog program 15 years ago and has played a large part in the program’s expansion. On the basis of her experiences organizing Guilderland’s program, she wrote a book, “Service Trained Facility Dogs,” on how to implement a service-animal program. She trains other social workers, including at chapter events, on how to start such programs.

Kania Ponto, communications director of the state chapter, called Ricchetti’s presentations “the most raved-over and sought-after training.”

Ricchetti also has made presentations before nursing homes and assisted-living associations and will, in October, speak to an association of school psychologists.  

“It’s a nice program,” Ricchetti said of using therapy dogs, “and it’s nice to see it expanding into other organizations and other fields.”

Ricchetti is grateful, she said, for the way her school district has embraced the service-dog program since its start, and the way that so many educators including physical and occupational therapists, speech pathologists, reading teachers, special-education teachers, and classroom teachers have worked on finding “creative ways to access the use of a well-trained, gentle dog to enhance the work that they’re already doing.”

Richetti received multiple nominations from chapter members for the award, Ponto said.

RIcchetti said she is honored and excited.

“Honestly, I was so surprised,” she said. Before the awards were announced, the organization’s director sent her an email, telling her to keep her eyes open for news of an award she would be receiving. She thought at first that it was a regional award until she read the email a second time and realized it looked to be statewide.

She emailed the director back, she said, asking, “Are you sure?”

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