Partners Provides Therapy Dog to Lincoln County’s Asbury Academy

LINCOLNTON, N.C., MARCH 20, 2024 – Partners Health Management joined Asbury Academy, Lincoln County Schools and local legislators Wednesday morning in welcoming Bernie (the therapy dog) to the school to provide ongoing healing, comfort and support to students alongside human guidance counselors.

Partners was able to provide Bernie to Asbury Academy using funding from the federal Child Mental Health Block Grant. An 18-month-old Bernedoodle, Bernie was specially trained to provide support to students.

L-R: Asbury Academy Principal Mark Grega, N.C. House Speaker Tim Moore, Bernie, N.C. State Senator W. Ted Alexander, Guidance Counselor Alyson Spencer (Bernie’s handler) and N.C. State Rep. Jason Saine.

“I am encouraged that Partners is employing community service block grant funds to address the ongoing mental health concerns in our area, particularly with our children,” said N.C. House Speaker Tim Moore. “This investment will play a crucial role in our community, using creative tools to meet pressing mental health needs.”

Asbury Academy Principal Mark Grega said studies have shown that there are benefits to having a therapy dog in schools for all students but especially for special needs students. “These dogs are great listeners that don’t make any judgments, help students feel connected and build confidence, reduce anxiety, and help to quickly de-escalate students during emotionally challenging times,” Grega said.

Students also can receive cognitive benefits from reading to Bernie and learn responsibility by helping to bathe, brush, feed and take Bernie out for potty breaks during school, Grega said.

“Overall, it’s a tremendous benefit to have such a dog in our alternative school setting and we anticipate students will have more opportunities to practice their social skills, their communication skills and see improvement in anxiety, depression and other mental health issues,” Grega said.

Holly Wall, Partners Regional Director of Community Operations, said Partners is happy to be able to provide a therapy dog to the school. “Bernie has the chance to make a real difference for the kids at Asbury Academy and that is why we wanted to make this happen. Our hope is that Bernie will have a lasting, positive impact on student mental health.”

Bernie with Lincoln County Board of Education Vice Chairperson Christina Sutton.

N.C. State Senator W. Ted Alexander and N.C. State Rep. Jason Saine, both of whom represent Lincoln County, met Bernie and talked with students and staff at Asbury Academy Wednesday.

“We know intuitively that dogs bring a lot of peace to us. It is great the schools can integrate service animals into what they do to bring some much-needed tranquility to students,” Rep. Saine said. “Bernie will be wonderful addition to the team in service of the kids at Asbury.”

Senator Alexander agreed. “Supporting our young people is important for the health and future of our communities. Bernie seems like he is up to the task, and I am so glad he’s here to support these students.”

The Lincolnton community is helping with Bernie’s care. When he is not working, Bernie will stay with Asbury Academy Guidance Counselor Alyson Spencer and her family. The Grooming Lady of Lincolnton has offered free grooming services to keep Bernie looking sharp for school. DocTerra Mobile Veterinary Services of Lincolnton will provide free veterinary services.

Andy Hanellin of Dogs by Andy Kennel & Training Center in Mooresville, N.C., trained Bernie for his new job.

To learn more about Partners, visit our website at


Partners Health Management is a leading local managed care organization (LME/MCO), providing access to care for central and western North Carolina’s most vulnerable citizens. Partners manages all Medicaid, state and local funding for intellectual/developmental disabilities, mental health and substance use disorder (IDD/MH/SUD) services in our covered areas.

We are recognized across North Carolina for our Partners Community Model and unwavering commitment to the counties and the families we serve. Through our steadfast community focus and longstanding partnerships with local stakeholders, agencies and elected officials, our members receive the care and support they need.

View a PDF version of this press release.

For more information, please contact:

Karen Cimino, Marketing & Communications
Partners Health Management
Mobile: 704-689-2416