When a proposed program for therapy dogs in local schools was announced a couple of weeks ago during 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 has been raised.
Commissioner Jamie Booth announced during Thursday morning’s meeting that the money was given from the budgets of county agencies.
Common Pleas Court Judges Mark Kerenyi and John Halliday gave $5,000, Juvenile Court Judge Timothy Williams gave $5,000, the Behavioral Health Board gave $10,000 and the commissioners gave the remaining $4,000.
After the brief discussion two weeks ago, Washington County Sheriff’s Chief Deputy Mark Warden said the therapy dogs would help the relationship between students and staff and the school resource officer and K-9, opening up the pathways of communication.
The three SROs in the county — one at Warren, one at Fort Frye, and one at the career center — would have a specially trained therapy dog to open up those pathways of communication, as the dogs will be used in everyday situations around the schools .
“I’ve been hearing from staff members that kids that have been incarcerated have opened up to the dog and officer, which opens up the communication,” Warden said.
He broke down the costs for the two dogs, including the training and conversion of the SRO’s cruisers.
He said $21,426 is the cost for the two therapy dogs and two cruiser conversion kits for the deputy’s vehicles.
Each dog is $4,500 each, with cruiser conversion kits at $6,213 each.
Warden said the conversion kits are cages that are added after the cruiser’s back seats are removed. The cages are used to house the dogs while on the job.
The remainder of the $24,000 will be used for therapy training for the dogs.
“Something special happened here today to the sheriff and to the school representatives that are here today,” Booth said. “It’s been an example for Washington, DC I don’t want to make this political, but we saw very quickly this board of commissioners work with the sheriff’s department, the three judges — Judge Williams, Judge Halliday and Judge Kerenyi — and Behavioral Health (Board), and very quickly this came together. Sheriff (Larry) Mincks said ‘I’d really like to have two therapy dogs,’ and previously being a police officer, it took very little convincing for me to just go on a mission and get everyone together.”
Mincks spoke to the meeting attendees and said his office has been working the last five or 10 years to try to strengthen county schools because of the “number of incidents that have occurred and they continue to happen.”
“By putting therapy dogs in schools, we’re accomplishing a lot of things,” he said. “One, we want to get our officers in schools full-time during school hours to assist with whatever duties we can. We have three officers in schools already and they help with incidents that happen in the school. They direct traffic in the morning and they also go with our truancy officer to go out to check on people who are delinquent and are not showing up.”
He said a lot of the kids may 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 that something has happened to the child the night before.
“We found that these dogs in the school… work very well to bridge the gap between the students and law enforcement. Therapy dogs, I think, will be a bigger increase than what we’re doing. During school time, we’ll have an armed officer who is trained with an AR-15, shotguns and handguns, and also dealing with children.”
K-9 Brody got attention during the meeting.
“You can see how easy it is to come up and get acquainted with a dog like that,” Mincks said.
A lot of times, the children will come up to an officer, but if you have a dog there, it’s easier, he said.
He said they’re going to try for two more dogs, one for Warren Local Schools and one for Fort Frye Local Schools.
“Having the dogs in the schools is a tremendous asset,” he said.
Warren Local Superintendent Kyle Newton and Fort Frye Local Stephanie Starcher attended, while the career center’s superintendent, Tony Huffman, could not make the meeting.
Booth read a statement from Huffman about the impact K-9 Brody has on his students.
“Washington County Career Center really likes having both Deputy (Mike) Harlow as a resource officer and K-9 Brody. Students have responded to both very positively. I’m convinced that both student behavior and student 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 are also there for prevention.
“When you look at the school shooter information, the common thread tends to be with these male perpetrators is trauma,” she said. “They’ve had some sort of trauma in their lives and that’s what we see in schools. Trauma.”
She said it often leads students to poor choices in their behaviors and a therapeutic dog can be used to de-escalate the situation. It can help get students through that moment.
“I think it’s a big step in the prevention side,” she said.
Newton said there was a quick reaction with everyone involved in getting the program started and funded.
“When Deputy (Ellie) Reynolds brought this to me, I was like … you’re taking this on as a deputy and taking this into your home and becoming a part of your family,” he said.
He said he applauded her for saying yes and deciding this is something she wanted to do.
“We are very lucky to be one campus and have a sheriff’s deputy there every day and that makes a difference,” Newton said. “From the interaction with students, I see it when she walks the halls, when she’s out there… kids do respond, but having a dog on top of that will make a huge difference for our students.”