FENTON, Mich. – It has been five years since the first therapy dog started walking the halls in a Fenton Area Public School.
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Now the program has grown to six dogs.
The staff says this is a needed program especially because many students have anxiety.
Five years ago, it was just Buddy who is a mini-Golden Doodle roaming the halls and providing comfort for the elementary kids, now the district has six therapy dogs, and they plan to add more.
“Bella here is a service dog in our autism classroom, Mr. Todd Schroeder is our handler, but Mr. Schroeder hands Bella off to the classroom and those students have jobs for Bell throughout the day, they have expectations and roles of support and Bella supports the classroom as well,” says Barry Tiemann who is the director of communications and innovation for the district.
Todd Schroeder is a teacher at Fenton High School.
He says Bella knows every day when they turn into the School that it is time to work.
She works with students with autism.
She teaches the kids, responsibility and communication.
“Speak properly clearly, use your words when you speak to the dog, responsibility to take the dog for a walk, you have a bad day and anxiety, they take the dog out it calms them down,” says Schroeder.
Five years ago he advocated for a therapy dog, and that’s when Buddy entered the district.
At the time Tiemann was an elementary school principal.
“Local schools south of us had programs so I contacted them and did a lot of research and talking with them first to really know that it would be an effective program for the school district, the results were phenomenal,” says Tiemann.
Tiemann says the schools have raised money or received local business support to buy each dog and also pay for the training.
And after that training, they start their new jobs in the district.
And while many of the kids are excited to see the dogs, they never force anyone to pet or be with the dog.
“We don’t ever expect a student to feel comfortable we will give them as much space they need and as much time they need to feel comfortable,” says Tiemann.
At the high school, the dogs greet the students as they walk into school.
For Tiemann when they expanded the program to add three dogs at the high school he didn’t know what to expect.
“You know sometimes they are too cool for School they really just benefit just as much or more because their level of anxiety is different than an elementary school student,” he says.
Each school fundraises or gets support from local businesses to pay for the dog and also pay for the training.