Bexley schools newest staff member has tails wagging

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Messenger photos by John Matuszak
Students in Jody Copp’s classroom and other classes at Maryland enjoy a visit from Glazier once a week. The dog was provided through Canine Companions for Independence and is the responsibility of counselor Erica Hecker during working hours and Principal Jon Hood after the last bell rings.
 
Maryland Avenue Elementary teacher Jody Copp, who keeps several animals in her classroom, first suggested bringing a dog to the school, resulting in the introduction of Glazier.

Most teachers wish they had an extra pair of hands in the classroom.

This year at Maryland Avenue Elementary School in Bexley, they have four of them – and a tail.

Glazier, a two-year-old Labrador/golden retriever mix, is the newest staff member at the school, courtesy of Canine Companions for Independence.

"He’s the only staff member who makes everybody smile," commented teacher Jody Copp, who first brought up the possibility of having a dog at Maryland.

Copp believes "pet therapy is the best kind of therapy," as evidenced by her classroom companions Owen, the "rescue bird," along with a rabbit and an aquarium.

Computers are interactive, Copp reasons, but they’re no substitute for a living, breathing animal to augment the atmosphere of a classroom.

Counselor Erica Hecker and Principal Jon Hood bit on the idea of having dog, and gained the support of Superintendent Michael Johnson.

Hecker said that she is always looking for new ways to make connections with kids, and a dog seemed like the perfect bridge.

Canine Companions, the national organization which raises and trains dogs for institutions and people with disabilities,  conducted a lengthy screening process for the school, including site visits and an interview with Hood.

In June the school was put on a waiting  list, and by August it was time for Hecker and Hood to undergo their own obedience training in an intensive one-week session.

"It was a truly wonderful experience," Hecker said.

They worked with four facility dogs while they learned how to give commands, and on the third day they were matched with one pooch.

That’s when they met Glazier, and in  "a matter of seconds we were attached," Hecker recalled, especially Hood, who would be the one taking the dog home at the end of the day.

Glazier had gone through his own rigorous training to become a working dog. Born at the organization’s California facility, he was raised and trained by an inmate at the Ross County (Ohio) Correctional Institution, who taught him 28 commands.

From there he underwent another six months of training in Delaware County,  where he increased his repertoire to 42 commands.

Not every dog has his day, Hecker pointed out. Only three out of 10 make the grade  (the others go to good homes, she added).

The cost of all this training is $50,000, but through a grant the Bexley district received Glazier at no cost.

Like the commercial says: the value – priceless.

"He’s a tremendous greeter," remarked Hecker. Glazier and Hood welcome students every morning. "He’s an example of good behavior and shows the importance of listening and following directions."

This tower of patience will stay lying down for four hours.

Hecker first envisioned using Glazier to help children with physical or emotional difficulties. Children who have been aggressive become gentle with the dog, and those who are socially isolated come out of their shells.

He has proven to be a benefit for the entire population, as well, and visits each classroom once a week.

Kids who were having trouble getting to school on time now come early to see Glazier, Hood said.

A five-minute walk with the dog quieted one student more than 15 minutes of talking, the principal added.

In the counselor’s office, he is "a good ice breaker" for kids who might be afraid, Hecker said.

Being allowed to brush or walk Glazier is used as a reward for good behavior. The kids even read to him and "he loves it," Hecker said.

When the final bell rings, Hood takes Glazier home and the dog is able to take off his official Canine Companions vest and relax.

"When he puts on the best, its like he senses it’s time to go to work," Hood observed. "When you pull the vest off and give the command ‘release,’ he’s all dog."

This has been a special gift for the Hood family, who lost a beloved pet  after 14 years.

Maryland hopes to have Glazier around for eight to ten years, when he will retire.

"He has a great life. He is well-loved by 300 kids and adults," the counselor said.

The success of the project so far has Bexley’s other two elementary schools sitting up and begging.

"They all want one," Hecker said.

Canine Companions for Independence is a non-profit organization that operates through volunteers and donations. Visit www.caninecompanions.org for information.

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