I teach at a small coal region school district in Pennsylvania. I have been an 8th grade English teacher there for 36 years. Six years ago I started a pilot program at my school with the life skills kids and emotional support kids with your program. I added my therapy certified German Shepherd to the program. We visited four different life skills and emotional support classrooms using the Mutt-i-grees Curriculum grades 4 through 12. After a few months, administration was so impressed with the response of those students and with the combination of the Mutt-i-grees Curriculum with my therapy dog that we were asked to continue the program. We continued this program until March 13 of 2020 when schools in Pennsylvania shut down due to Covid19.
I did not have room in my schedule to add this as a class so I scheduled the classes with those teachers during my one or two preps I received each week (we don’t have guaranteed preps daily) and after my building’s dismissal. In the 5 1/2 years we did this program, the program made a difference in the lives of over 200 special needs students!
In October of 2018, my dog, Dakota, started scraping her left rear leg. It wasn’t all of the time so my better half, Rob, and I thought it was just a muscle pull or something minor. By December, we took her to the vet since it was still happening. She suspected Degenerative Myelopathy and we were off to a neurologist for more evaluation. After an MRI and other testing along with a genetic test to see if she had the gene we were sure this was Degenerative Myelopathy. Rob and I were devastated. Dakota was still full of life and only 7 years old!
Despite her growing weakness, if I looked at her and said, “Let’s go to school,” her head would snap and she would get excited to get in the car. Once at school she knew the way to my classroom where I had a portable crate for her until it was time to go to work. The faculty loved having her in the building and so did all of my English students. I can’t count the number of times one of my kids was having a bad day and would ask if they could just sit and “talk” to Dakota which I happily let them do.
Even once she needed her wheels she was able to connect with many students in the building. They would say hello to Dakota before they would say hello to me! Students from all grades would stop in the hallway and ask to pet her until we had a crowd and I had to shoo them to their classes. One of our wheelchair bound students squealed with delight the first day Dakota came to school in her wheelchair! I have a picture of the two of them together side-by-side in their chairs walking down the school hallway both happy as can be. It’s one of my favorite pictures.
Now Dakota is only weeks away from leaving us. This disease has her totally paralyzed in the front and back legs. It’s getting harder for her to even keep her head up. We have been taking her for acupuncture and chiropractic every two weeks which has helped her quality of life over these past 27 months. All of our vets have been so good to Dakota and are an awesome team!
I felt the need to share Dakota’s story since she was a big part of the Mutt-i-grees program at my school. Without your incredible curriculum we would not have had the opportunity to touch so many students’ lives…TOGETHER. I can continue the program without Dakota but it may take me awhile to get to that point. We are/were a team. Thank you for making a difference!
Panther Valley Jr.Sr High School
ELA Dept. Head
8th Grade English Teacher