When a proposed program for therapy dogs at local schools was announced a few weeks ago at a meeting of the Washington County Commission, they were looking for sponsors to help fund the $24,000 cost.
Two weeks later, the full amount was lifted.
Commissioner Jamie Booth announced at Thursday morning’s meeting that the money was coming from county agency budgets.
Court of Common Pleas judges Mark Kerenyi and John Halliday donated $5,000, juvenile court judge Timothy Williams donated $5,000, the Behavioral Health Board donated $10,000 and the commissioners donated the 4,000 remaining $.
After the brief discussion two weeks ago, Washington County Sheriff’s Deputy Mark Warden said the therapy dogs would help the relationship between students and staff and the school resource officer and K- 9, opening the lines of communication.
The county’s three SROs — one in Warren, one in Fort Frye and one at the Career Center — would have a specially trained therapy dog to open those lines of communication, as the dogs will be used in everyday situations around schools.
“I’ve heard from staff that the children who have been recluse have opened up to the dog and the officer, which opens up communication,” said the guard.
He broke down the costs for the two dogs, including the training and conversion of SRO cruisers.
He said $21,426 was the cost of the two therapy dogs and two cruiser conversion kits for the deputy’s vehicles.
Each dog costs $4,500 each, with cruiser conversion kits at $6,213 each.
Warden said conversion kits are cages that are added after the rear seats are removed from the cruiser. Cages are used to house dogs during work.
The remainder of the $24,000 will be used for therapeutic dog training.
“Something special happened here today to the sheriff and school officials who are here today,” Booth said. “It was an example for Washington, DC. I don’t want to play politics, but we saw very quickly this board of commissioners working with the sheriff’s department, the three judges – Judge Williams, Judge Halliday and Judge Kerenyi – and behavioral health.(Council), and pretty soon it all fell into place. Sheriff (Larry) Mincks said “I would really like to have two therapy dogs”, and being a former police officer, he told me took very little conviction to go on a mission and bring everyone together.
Mincks addressed meeting attendees and said his office has been working for five or 10 years to try to strengthen schools in the county due to the “number of incidents that have occurred and continue to occur.”
“By putting therapy dogs in schools, we are accomplishing a lot,” he said. “First, we want our officers to be in schools full time during school hours to help us with whatever tasks we can. We already have three officers in the schools and they help with incidents that occur in the school. They direct traffic in the morning and they also accompany our Absenteeism Officer to check on no-show offenders.
He said many children can experience a domestic incident between their parents and his office has a program where they have to send a note to school officials to let them know something happened to the child the night before. .
“We have found that these dogs at school…work very well in bridging the gap between students and law enforcement. Therapy dogs, I think, will be a bigger increase than what we’re doing. During school time, we will have an armed officer who is trained with an AR-15, shotguns and handguns, who will also take care of the children.
K-9 Brody caught the eye during the reunion.
“You can see how easy it is to get acquainted with a dog like that,” said Mincks.
Often kids will approach an officer, but if you have a dog there, it’s easier, he said.
He said they were going to try out two more dogs, one for local schools in Warren and one for local schools in Fort Frye.
“Having dogs in schools is a great asset”, he said.
Warren Local Superintendent Kyle Newton and Fort Frye Local Stephanie Starcher attended, while Career Center Superintendent Tony Huffman was unable to attend the meeting.
Booth reads a statement from Huffman about K-9 Brody’s impact on his students.
“Washington County Career Center really likes having both Deputy (Mike) Harlow as a Resource Officer and K-9 Brody. The students responded very positively to both. I am convinced that the behavior of the students and their perception of law enforcement have benefited from our experience,” Booth read.
Starcher said the school resource officer program helps students deal with incidents as they happen, but they’re also there for prevention.
“When you look at the news about school shooters, the common thread tends to be with these male perpetrators, it’s trauma,” she says. “They’ve had some sort of trauma in their lives and that’s what we see in the schools. Trauma.”
She said this often leads students to make poor choices in their behaviors and a therapy dog can be used to defuse the situation. This can help students get through this moment.
“I think it’s a big step on the prevention side,” she says.
Newton said there was a quick response from everyone involved in launching and funding the program.
“When Deputy (Ellie) Reynolds brought this to me, I was like… you take on this as a deputy and you bring this into your home and you become part of your family,” he said.
He said he applauded her for saying yes and decided it was something she wanted to do.
“We’re very lucky to be a campus and have a sheriff’s deputy every day and that makes a difference,” says Newton. “From the interaction with the students, I see it when she’s walking down the halls, when she’s out there…the kids are responding, but having an extra dog will make a huge difference to our students.”