Fenton — Therapy dog Charlie drew smiles from almost every child and adult who walked past him to enter the building on
their first day of school. Many stopped to pet him and already knew him by name.
On Tuesday, Aug. 27, Fenton Area Public Schools started the school year with two therapy dogs. Charlie is at Tomek-Eastern Elementary School and Buddy at State Road Elementary School. Both schools have miniature golden doodles, who were trained by Fred Saber at Wing & Shot LLC in Ortonville.
This is Charlie’s first day of school, while Buddy started last December. “I think it’s good for the kids to see something to get excited about first thing in the morning,” said Craig Salter, Tomek-Eastern principal. Salter said Charlie is named after
Charles Tomek, the late school principal and businessman.
This effort to bring therapy dogs into schools was inspired by the Brighton Area Schools program, which has dogs covering all the school buildings each day.
The idea is to bring comfort and calm to the children and staff. According to UCLA health.org, the act of petting an animal releases an automatic relaxation response and lowers anxiety. Animals can even help reduce the number of medications people need. “Having a highly trained dog can help out in some of those tough moments students may be having,” Salter said.
At State Road Elementary, fundraising efforts began in June 2018. Principal Barry Tiemann spearheaded fundraising $8,000 to pay for Buddy. On Tuesday, he kicked off his first full year as a therapy dog.
“Buddy brings a smile to every student’s face as soon as they see him,” Tiemann said. “Students are able to get that unconditional love that a dog provides.”
Buddy also greeted students at the main entrance as they entered the building that morning. After school started, he visited classrooms. He wore his therapy dog vest throughout the day.
Last year, he was allowed to become familiar with the building and get used to being around hundreds of children.
This year, State Road staff plans to do more “off lead” training. This means he could walk the halls without a leash accompanied by a handler.
Therapy dog planning at Tomek-Eastern started in October when Salter heard about State Road’s project. Salter is Charlie’s primary handler, and he took the pup in July after training.
“With a therapy dog I hope to provide a calming effect for students and staff. School can be tough at times for students,” he said. “Just bringing a dog into the environment can really brighten up their day or make them smile.”
Both dogs will be available to be read to by students and walked throughout the school year.
Fenton was first to start school this week — other districts are in session after Labor Day.