The dogs were acquired through a grant with Mt. Pleasant Public Schools, as well as Shepherd Public Schools. Support from the Saginaw Chippewa Indian Tribe aided in awarding these grants for the school.
"Two were purchased earlier this year, one was just released to their host and the other will be released to their host family some time in August," Speech Language Pathologist at MPPS, Tracy Wood said. "Due to additional grant funding, another two dogs were just purchased this month. We are making plans now for their host families and school placements for the fall."
Since the dogs are owned by MPPS, the grant funding takes care of the purchasing of the dogs as well as their other needs like daily care, supplies, vet care, and grooming. An employee of MPPS is chosen to host the dogs through an application process.
"The host is responsible for initial training and continuation of the training each day," Wood said. "The host is also responsible to provide a safe and loving home for the dog. A steering committee oversees the therapy dog program."
The therapy dogs includes a Labradoodle named Teddy and a black Labrador retriever named Olive (Ollie for short) as well as another black Labrador retriever and an Australian Labradoodle, which will come to MPPS later in the year.
Teddy is being hosted by Wood and her family, and will be serving at Gainard Elementary.
"The host is responsible for continuing training, bringing him/her to school each day and coordinating his/her "work" for the day," Wood said. "When the dog is not working at school, he becomes a part of the family, living life with us each day."
Ollie will be released to his host family, Courtney and Jason Russell, in August and will be serving students at Mt. Pleasant Middle School.
The therapy dogs will be providing emotional support to students, specifically students that have been impacted by trauma but the dogs will be there for all students. The dogs will also be utilized to support behavioral, academic and communication needs for students with special needs.
"Teddy will be working with me (SLP) so he will be a key support with my caseload," Wood said. "I work with students with mild to significant speech and language impairments. Olive will be spending much time with students in need of counseling at the middle school and with students with special needs. The dogs will also eventually be scheduled to spend time in most classrooms (dependent on allergy or anxiety issues)."
The dogs received a minimum of 8 months of intensive training with Valerie Thomas of Mindfulness Therapy Dogs in Pinckney, MI. Host families will also train with the dogs and trainers before the dogs are released to the schools.
"The training focuses on the dogs behavioral and social skills," Wood said. "They are trained to be loved and to give love. All staff in the buildings that have the dogs will also have training and a secondary host will be available to support the primary host when needed."
In terms of the COVID-19 pandemic, while there is currently no official word on MPPS's plans are for the upcoming school year, safety measures are being worked on in order to protect the dog and children.
"With COVID-19, we know that students will most likely return with anxiety and other social emotional needs," Wood said. "The timing of our district receiving these dogs could not be better. That being said, we do know that dogs can also contract the virus, so we will have safety measures put in place to protect the health of the dogs."
For more information, visit the Mt. Pleasant Public Schools Schools Social Emotional Support Dogs Facebook page.