Monday, October 4, 2010

Facility Therapy Dog Dexter Goes Back to School!

By Tamara L. Waters

Mary's little lamb might have followed her to school – and that was against the rules – but if you visit the Mill Creek Middle School in Dexter, Michigan, you'll find that rule is not necessarily steadfast. Mill Creek Middle School is where you'll find Dexter the certified Facility Therapy Dog encouraging kids to read, helping students who are feeling stressed or afraid, and greeting kids when they arrive on the morning school buses.

If you've had a pet, you know how they can calm and soothe when you’re anxious or afraid. Kids who have special needs will find comfort in Dexter's presence as he does what dogs do best – give love and doggy affection.

Dexter is a 22-month-old Labrador Retriever, and he is now a part of the staff at Mill Creek Middle School where he is already a big hit with staff and students. Imagine being nervous about reading out loud because you're worried about the reaction of others. With Dexter, students will get nothing but a tail wag, a friendly lick and a furry snuggle to spur them along and encourage them to do their best.

Dexter was trained by Paradise Dog Training, and was brought on board after the Dexter Rotary Club learned about facility dogs that make a positive impact in the daily lives of students and others. The inspiration came from a program presented at another school (Maltby Middle School).

The Dexter Rotary Club's president thought this would be a great program to bring to Dexter area schools. After contacting Lori Griff of Paradise Dog Training (the trainer behind Maltby Middle School's therapy dog), the Rotary Club got the ball rolling.

The Rotary Club raised funds to purchase Dexter. Those funds came from a combination of member donations, a grant from Rotary District 6380 and sponsorship from a local car dealership – Dexter La Fontaine Chevrolet Dealership. The Rotary Club also coordinated with businesses in the Dexter area to provide services for the life of Dexter the therapy dog.

CANIDAE Natural Pet Food Company, in cooperation with Dexter Feed Mill, will provide dog food for this special canine for life, and Dexter Grooming is providing grooming services to keep him looking his handsome best. The Dexter Animal Hospital and the Lane Veterinary Hospital will be providing veterinary services, while Dexter Pharmacy will provide prescription medication for Dexter throughout his lifetime.

As part of the CANIDAE sponsorship, Dexter will be fed CANIDAE All Life Stages dog food and Snap-Biscuit® treats for his life while he is participating in the Educational Reading Program at Mill Creek Middle School.

James Brown, Regional Sales Manager for CANIDAE, said the choice of CANIDAE dog food will provide Dexter with everything he needs nutritionally to live a long, healthy life and help the students he will be encouraging.

“By feeding CANIDAE Natural Pet Food, Dexter the Therapy Dog will receive all the essential nutrition and energy requirements necessary for work and play while participating in the Educational Reading Program at Mill Creek Intermediate School in Dexter, Michigan,” Brown said.

Brown went on to explain that reading programs – like the one Dexter will be a part of – help encourage shy students to feel at ease and more relaxed, which is a better learning environment for them.

“By having kids read to dogs, the process motivates students to achieve high reading competency and learning habits. Dogs in school reading programs teach responsible pet ownership,” Brown said.

He went on to say that students who are aided by such therapy dogs will learn more than just reading – they will learn about taking care of animals, caring responsibly for pets and other animals, dog training skills and “positive social interactions like rewarding the dog.”

Brown explained that the students are not the only ones at Mill Creek Middle School who will benefit from Dexter's presence. He said the staff and teachers at the school will also enjoy “more relaxed counseling sessions, physical therapy exercise and speech therapy,” thanks to Dexter.

When Dexter isn't doing his job at the school, he will be living with a host family who will take care of him and his needs outside of the school. Sue McCarthy, a teacher at the Mill Creek Middle School where Dexter will be helping students, is responsible for Dexter's daily care and his transportation to and from the school.

Other teachers and staff at the school will be trained to handle Dexter and work with him and the students in creating a positive learning environment.

What do the students at Mill Creek Middle School think about their own special “big dog on campus?” After attending an orientation day at the school, students and parents who were able to meet Dexter gave him – and the reading program he will be helping with – an overwhelming thumbs up. The school issued a statement about Dexter's presence in the classroom.

“We are very excited about this special program for Mill Creek Middle School, and without the support of CANIDAE Natural Pet Food this would not be successful. We cannot thank you enough for CANIDAE’s generosity to help us make a difference.”

Read more articles by Tamara L. Waters


  1. Every school should be lucky enough to have their own "Dexter!"

  2. This is so cool. It's a great way to help kids feel more comfortable and to teach kids why it's important to feed pets a quality food that keeps the dog or cat healthy.

    This is a program that should be in every school.


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