By Kevin Boneske
ASHWAUBENON – The idea of providing a school resource officer with a facility therapy dog in the Ashwaubenon School District received backing Wednesday, June 12, from the school board.
The board voted in favor of applying for a dog through a program that trains the animals after hearing from School Resource Officer Jeff Everetts and Director of Pupil Services Tammy Nicholson.
“This idea is just something that could build even more connections with some of those kids that we really want to have a positive interaction with the police officers and to build those relationships,” Nicholson said.
Everetts, who is the school resource officer at AHS and splits time with another school resource officer at Parkview Middle School, said having a facility therapy dog in the school could help deal with the emotional and behavioral issues of some students.
“Sometimes they escalate to a point where they have to be physically restrained or physically removed from the classroom,” he said. “When that occurs, it disrupts the learning environment for all the students in that room…”
Everetts said those problems aren’t unique to Ashwaubenon, and upon doing research into that, he noted he found out about police departments using facility dogs within the schools and having success with them.
“Menasha Police Department Officer Jeff Jorgenson has a facility dog,” Everetts said. “Tammy and I were able to go down to Menasha and do a ride-along with him for a day and just see the dog in action. It was amazing to see this dog work.”
Everetts said Jorgenson reported a reduction in the amount of restraints having to be used in schools after having a facility therapy dog.
A dog like that could be applied for through a company called Canine Companions for Independence (CCI), which trains facility therapy dogs for police departments that go through a selection process, Everetts said.
“It’s two years old when you get the dog, and the dog knows over 40 commands,” he said. “It’s very disciplined. It responds well. It detects when people are experiencing anxiety, anger, stress, things like that, and it’s just able to decrease that.”
Everetts said the company retains ownership of the dog, which is valued at $60,000, though there would be no cost to the school district or village to receive the animal.
“They retain ownership of that dog, the facility dog, and in doing so they also provide the insurance for the dog,” he said. “At any point in time, if for some reason the program doesn’t work out, or when I retire or if I move on to a different position and a new (school resource officer comes in and) we can’t fill that position with someone who wants a dog or anything like that, you can always return that dog back to CCI, and they can repurpose that dog.”
Everetts said having a dog could also help break down the barrier between law enforcement and students.
“I wear a polo shirt and pants, but they still know me as an officer,” he said. “It’s hard to break down that barrier.”
Though neither the school district nor village would be charged to have the dog, Everetts said it would cost $2,000 for him to go to Ohio for two weeks for the initial training with the animal, while the annual cost to operate the program would be around $5,700, to be split 50-50 between the village and the school district.
School Business Director Keith Lucius said it might be possible to raise the district’s $2,850 share through donations, while the district’s liability insurance would cover having a facility therapy dog.
The annual costs include a $3,900 stipend for the officer handling the dog, which would come to $150 per pay period.
School board members spoke in favor of the program.
“I’ve seen dogs dealing with people with physical handicaps,” said Clerk Jennifer Vyskocil. “I just think this could be phenomenal for our students.”
The Ashwaubenon village board voted May 28 in support of applying for a dog in the school.
Upon the Public Safety Department being approved by the CCI to receive a facility therapy dog, Chief Eric Dunning reported to the village board it could be up to 12 months before the department would have a dog in its possession.