Mourning the loss of Mattis

By Dedra Cordle

Staff Writer

Photo courtesy of the Franklin County Sheriff’s Office
Mattis attended the senior prom for Westland High School. He and his handler, Deputy Darrah Metz, served as school resource officers.

A trailblazing therapy dog who changed lives and shaped policy in the South-Western City School District has died.

The Franklin County Sheriff’s Office announced on June 28 that its first therapy dog, Mattis, died from end-stage liver failure.

The English Labrador retriever was 7 years old.

Mattis was deputized by the sheriff’s office at the tender age of 8 months. At the time of his deputization in 2017, he was the first therapy dog for a law enforcement agency in the state and only the sixth in the nation.

Although his primary tasks included comforting individuals – primarily children – after traumatic events, he also served as an ambassador for therapy dogs at community events and school assemblies.

In August of 2023, Mattis and handler Deputy Darrah Metz were selected by the sheriff’s office to serve as school resource officers at Westland High School.

Principal Greg Costello said the impact he made on the students and staff cannot be understated.

“While only officially placed at Westland High School for the past year, Mattis made a significant impact on our students and staff through his therapeutic efforts on behalf of the Franklin County Sheriff’s Office,” he said in an email. “In his role, he provided invaluable emotional support, helping reduce daily stressors among students and staff alike and was an unbelievably reassuring presence that significantly elevated our building culture through that work.”

In addition to greeting students to and from classes and providing “an emotional uplift” when a need came about to a student struggling with an issue, Costello said he was most impressed by the effort Mattis and Metz made to form relationships with everyone in the building.

He cited the use of “Mattis-themed” trading cards that Metz created to distribute to students and staff as an example of those efforts.

“While some may view the baseball-like trading cards with Mattis’ picture as a small exchange, it encouraged daily interactions with Mattis and Deputy Metz that resulted in strong relationships with students and staff,” said Costello.

Among the staff members who formed a bond with the duo was school counselor Christina Shore.

After witnessing several interactions in which Mattis and Metz helped escalating students reach a level of calmness, Shore went before the board of education in January to request a revision to the ‘animals of district property’ policy so that certified therapy dogs could be permitted on school grounds under certain circumstances.

The board unanimously approved the change to the policy three months later, paving the way for certified therapy dogs to be able to support students and staff in the district buildings.

It is too soon to tell whether a new therapy dog who has been deputized by the sheriff’s office will walk the hallways at Westland, but Costello said it is certain that Mattis will never be forgotten by the community.

“Mattis leaves behind a huge void in our Cougar family as the result of his passing and our thoughts are with Deputy Metz at this incredibly difficult time,” he said. “While our students, programs, and initiatives drive the work we do in public education, there were many days where Mattis was the energy behind school being a fun and reassuring place to learn. He leaves behind an enduring legacy marked by the characteristics of support, compassion and loyalty – unbelievably admirable traits that will not soon be forgotten at Westland High School.”

The sheriff’s office plans to hold a public memorial service for Mattis K. Nine to honor his contributions to the community. They have not yet announced the date of the public memorial service as of press time.

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