The newest staff member in the Western School District is making the rounds with Superintendent Jessica Funk, and he’s getting plenty of attention.
“There’s a lot of gasping when I walk through the hallways,” Funk said.
The reaction is for Funk’s four-legged companion, a 14-month-old Bernese Mountain Dog and poodle mix, or Bernedoodle, named Co-Jack.
Co-Jack, the district’s new therapy dog, is on the job, visiting classrooms with Funk, his handler, and getting to know the elementary students.
“He has the best job in the world. His job is to make people happy and make people feel better,” Funk said.
“If we’re having a bad day or we’re sad sometimes, if we come over and rub on Co-Jack a little bit we get a little happier,” she said. “Last week it worked on a kindergartner who was really sad. We sat in the hallway less than 10 minutes. We rubbed on Co-Jack and loved on Co-Jack. Co-Jack walked her into the classroom, let her do the first paper, she showed him her work and we were good for the day.”
The district began planning to add a therapy dog to work with students and classrooms in December 2017 with an application to CARES Inc., a Kansas-based nonprofit training service for therapy dogs, and covered the cost by March 2018 with a grant and donations from the Western PTO, the Hull Lions Club, the Hull Service Club and individuals.
With vet care provided by Country View Veterinary Services with grooming by Lisa’s Pet Hotel and Salon, “we shouldn’t have a whole lot of ongoing expense with him,” Funk said. “He stays at our house. We provide dog food.”
After waiting two-and-a-half years, the district found out in July that it would be part of the nonprofit’s October class. Funk and part-time Western Junior High Counselor Chris Simonson spent a week in Kansas getting to know Co-Jack and Gucci, a year old golden retriever.
Both dogs are licensed, certified and “able to go anywhere,” Funk said.
One stop for Co-Jack last week was Eileen Malone’s pre-kindergarten class.
“He can’t shake your hand like we do when we meet somebody. His way to get to know you is to sniff you,” Funk told the pre-K class as one by one they got to pet Co-Jack.
Pennick Patterson wanted to play with Co-Jack and liked petting him because “he’s soft,” while classmate Jenson Smith had a better idea.
“Let him come in our classroom all day,” Jenson said.
“He has other places he has to be,” Funk said. “His schedule is almost busier than mine at the moment.”
Malone said students will enjoy having Co-Jack around.
“Especially if one is having a rough day it will help them calm down,” she said. “It’s amazing how much just having him come in changes your whole day.”
Now with the introductions done in each classroom, “teachers can set up a time where the kids can come and read to him, sit beside him while they do homework,” Funk said. “Kindergarten is going to practice their sight words and read some books with him. Second grade told me they’re going to teach him how to add.”
Students follow some basic rules around Co-Jack — always asking permission to pet him even in sign language if Funk is busy with another adult, remembering that Funk is the only person to give him commands and never giving him people food or dog treats.
“His treat is being petted or loved on or being told he’s doing a good job,” Funk said.
Funk said Co-Jack has done an amazing job so far with students.
“He’s really still a puppy, but you can’t tell it when you see him in action at school. Once he gets that harness on in the morning, he is all business,” she said. “I’m excited to see what things will happen just because he’s in the building.”