Do you remember being in high school and there were days when the only reason you went to school was so that you could see your best friend? Well, we do. Many of us have felt that way. We showed up at school to see our best friend and once we got there we were in a better frame of mind to learn.
We had the honor of meeting a Best Friend to many at Mahopac High School in the lower Hudson Valley. His name is Carlos and he has four paws, black fur and floppy ears. He is a Service Dog. Carlos is a trained Service Dog who is actually on staff at MHS Academy with all the lanyards and tags of any other staff member. He is, however, paid in pats and dog biscuits from the 60 students in the Academy.
You'd think having a dog in class could contribute to mayhem. Not at all! Before Carlos was brought on staff the Academy students as well as the 1500 students in the student body learned about role of Service Dogs, how they have a job to and that they must be allowed to work. Just as you don't go distract a teacher or a police officer or a nurse or a construction worker who is performing his or her duty, Carlos too needs a wide berth and full respect to do his job and do it well. When Carlos arrives and leaves for each day, students are very respectful and ask Mrs. Nolan, the teacher who is his handler if they may pet him and sometimes she must even say, "Not at this time."
So, what is Carlos' job? Carlos has the main role of being a calming presence for the students by lying quietly on the floor. He notices if a student is becoming agitated he will, unsolicited, quietly walk over to that student and put his head on the student's lap or take other calming actions. He is totally in tune to the students. Christine Nolan, his teacher-handler described his presence, “One student, who rarely speaks, immediately smiled and chatted with Carlos as soon as they met.” Or as his official Job Description reads "he is to provide support in the classroom, in counseling, or just by being seen wagging his tail in the hallway."
Anecdotally, the teachers and counselors in the Academy feel that Carlos' presence has not only had a positive influence but has improved both school and class attendance. As soon as The Academy has hard data of how Carlos impacts academic performance we will be following up for Brooklyn Bark is certainly a cheerleader for Service Dogs in the classroom.
And what does Carlos do when he is not on duty as a Service Dog with the students at Mahopac Academy? He is a stud for Guiding Eyes for the Blind in neighboring Yorktown and has sired over 70 puppies that are helping the unsighted live full and productive lives.