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On Lilah Repuyan’s first day of kindergarten, she was scared. Close to tears, she held her mom’s hand tightly and tentatively walked up to the school building.
But when she saw school principal Jon Hood standing at the front door with a friendly-looking dog named Glazier by his side, Lilah broke into a smile. She let go of her mom’s hand, ran to the dog and began petting him. “You could see the tension leave her body,” says Dori Goulet, Lilah’s mother. “Glazier immediately put her at ease and, after that, she was totally fine.”
Glazier, a 7-year-old Golden Retriever–Lab mix, is the facility dog at Maryland Elementary School in Bexley, Ohio. Hood says Glazier’s presence at the school helps new students adjust, puts struggling kids at ease and has made a positive impact on the school as a whole.
Six years ago, Hood lobbied the school district for a facility dog to aid the school’s special needs students. A facility dog is a specific type of service dog that works with a professional in a visitation, health-care or education setting. “I really thought this was a place where a dog could help,” Hood explains.
Once he was given the green light to initiate the process, Hood applied for a dog through Canine Companions for Independence, a nonprofit organization that enhances the lives of people with disabilities by providing highly trained assistance dogs.
Canine Companions’ approval process is rigorous, says Hood, and can sometimes take up to a year. Because the organization spends nearly $50,000 training each dog, making a good match is critical.
Puppies in the program undergo one year of puppy training plus an additional year of training to perform specific tasks to assist those with special needs.
Once Glazier was trained and ready to begin his work at Maryland Elementary, Hood and the school’s guidance counselor underwent two weeks of intensive training themselves to ensure they understood Glazier’s training and commands. “You have to learn the unique commands and make sure you’re telling him the right thing and using the right words,” Hood says.
Glazier’s typical day varies. When Hood and Glazier first arrive at school each morning, they spend 20 minutes playing hard in the gym, says Hood. “He’s so excited. We throw the ball or the Frisbee or just run around.” After playtime, Hood and Glazier head to Hood’s office for a drink of water and to put on Glazier’s assistance dog vest. “Once he has that vest on, he knows his work day is starting. His whole countenance changes,” says Hood.
When Glazier’s ready to go, Hood and the dog greet the students coming into the building. Hood says Glazier inspires the students to engage more. “Before, you’d be lucky to get a grunt out of kids when they arrive at school. Now they want to stop and pet Glazier and talk. They talk about their night or their family or their weekend,” he says. “It’s pretty amazing to be able to connect with them that way.”
Then, depending on what’s happening in the building that day, Glazier makes his rounds.
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