Therapy dog joins school resource officer at Pea Ridge Middle School
PEA RIDGE – There’s a new face – a hairy face – in middle school.
Koda, a nine-week-old Bernedoodle, joins School Resource Manager Mindy Fowler at school. Koda, whose name will change soon, will be used as a therapy dog.
“We’re having a puppy naming contest at school next week,” Fowler said, explaining that each middle school class will be asked to submit a name for consideration.
The black and white pup will live with Fowler full time and is his dog. She said he was up to date on his vaccinations and was from Illinois.
Fowler said she has been pushing for the program for a long time.
“I hope to improve relations…I think it helps bridge the gap between officers and children,” Fowler said. She said students in special education classes are often very comfortable and excited about a dog.
The addition of a therapy dog to the school resource officer program ‘comes in light of ongoing violence in schools attributed to overwhelming mental health issues across the country,’ according to a press release from the police lieutenant. by Pea Ridge John Langham. “With the help of a therapy dog, [school resource officers] will add an extra layer of assistance to calm students and teachers.”
Langham and Fowler said they couldn’t find any other police therapy dog school programs in Arkansas.
“We are very excited to see this program grow and the positive effects it will bring to the Pea Ridge School District and the entire Pea Ridge community,” Langham said. “We are so grateful to have dedicated individuals like Officer Fowler whose passions and interests can better our department and the great city of Pea Ridge every day.”
“I’m excited about this because I think it’s a step towards taking care of the emotional side of kids…it’s a challenge because almost all of this stuff about school violence started with someone. one that has some sort of emotional, psychological issue, and that’s just hopefully… [something that will] make a difference,” said Police Chief Lynn Hahn.
“We’re going to be training pretty much for the next 10 months. He’ll be training in the environment he’s in,” Fowler said. It will be incremental including kennel training, learning to work without being distracted, basic obedience. “Then we’ll slowly start doing presentations with the kids until he’s certified.”
“I hope to do everything with him,” she said. “Obviously his main job will be in schools to build relationships, self-esteem, teach them respect.”
Fowler is a qualified dog trainer, having worked as a dog handler for seven years at Lincoln.
“The training I followed,” she says, a graduate of Lead K9, a canine training school in which she learned to be a trainer with “green” dogs, those who had no training. She said she has been training dogs since 2001.
There are three categories of service dogs, Fowler explained. She said a therapy dog is a working dog that is trained and certified to provide comfort to people who need it, but does not have the same protections and privileges as service dogs.
A service dog is individually trained to perform work or perform tasks for the benefit of a person with a disability. They are legally defined and protected by the Americans with Disabilities Act.
Emotional support dogs are pets that can provide therapeutic relief. There are no certification or training requirements for emotional support dogs.
A Bernedoodle is a cross between a Bernese Mountain Dog and a Poodle. Fowler said the breed is considered the ideal companion dog due to its intelligence, friendliness and hypoallergenic coat.
The dog will only work with students who want to work with him, Fowler said, adding that she is aware and considerate of students who dislike or are afraid of dogs.
She said it will slowly acclimate to the school environment before being used in classrooms for an extended period.
“I think it’s also great for building community relationships,” Fowler said, explaining that she hopes to have the dog at various community events.