Champ and Dakoda, English Labs, Make Life Better in Walled Lake Schools
(Drew Saunders, Jan. 26, 2020)
Walled Lake, MI – A pair of English labs are part of the Walled Lake Consolidated Schools family.
Champ is a year and a half year old chocolate English lab at Mary Helen Guest Elementary School, who was very excited when yellow English lab Dakoda came to visit her from Walled Lake Western High School last Friday, to be introduced to the Oakland County Times. The dogs are there to help the kids, and so far it seems to be working.
“I feel like the sky is the limit,” Guest Elementary Principal Michelle Fiebke-Lang said. “Because we don’t necessarily know what the children need.”
The dogs are owned by the schools they work in, but go home at night and on the weekend to the staff member who is in charge of them. They are being used by teachers and students as a stress release, for socialization, and to help students succeed.
“We have reluctant readers that are now reading because of Champ,” Monica House, a resource room teacher at Guest Elementary said. The dog is patient as kids make their way through books, or getting petted by so many kids through the day.
The district has produced a reading program where young students are given backpacks with a stuffed animal that looks like the chocolate lab inside it. Students are encouraged to play with the stuffed animal, while reading the books that come with it, which WLPS says has increased literacy efforts tremendously.
Dakoda’s life works a bit differently, according to Ann Gray, a social worker at Walled lake Western High School. Teachers there can take the dog into their classrooms for an entire morning or afternoon and can take her to specific situations when needed.
“We’ve definitely noticed a difference in discipline. It’s hard to judge with 1,400 students in terms of grades though. And we’re kind of new, so we’re figuring things out,” Gray said. “We’ve definitely had fewer fights this school year than just compared to last year. And it’s changed the overall climate in the building. As she walks through the school, kids are just happier.”
Therapy dogs cost between $8,000 and $10,000 to train and get ready to work, according to the district. Walled Lake Public School officials, and school board records, say that the cost of acquiring them has come from donations and local sponsorships though the insurance is paid for by the district.
Organizers hope to have a therapy dog in each of the district’s 19 schools, though that will likely take years of planning. They also intend to scatter the arrival of therapy dogs, so they don’t all retire at once. School therapy dogs typically serve for about ten years. There are not any plans as of yet to get a third dog.
“The kids can’t wait to come to our school because we have the dog,” Fiebke-Lang said. “We had a [preschooler] last year. Her Mom came in and was filling out paperwork and [the girl] said ‘You don’t need to fill out that paperwork I’m just here to play with the dog.’”
Walled Lake Consolidated Schools
Oakland County Times Pets and Animals Section