Fenton High’s third therapy dog, Simon

Bree Soule, Online Editor in Chief

Fenton High has made the decision to get another therapy dog for the school. Simon, a 16 week old Apricot Standard Poodle, is Fenton High’s next Fenton Tiger Paw Patrol addition.

Simon was born on Feb. 11 and began training at just 11 weeks old. He came from a breeder listed as one of the best in the state for standard poodles. When Coordinator of Career & College Readiness Programs Lindsay Grady, Simon’s handler, met with the breeder, Simon was chosen and put through temperament testing, which he passed with flying colors. Simon is currently training for housebreaking, crate training and working on a slip lead.

“I purposefully [took him right to training] because the sooner he starts training, the sooner he comes home,” Grady said. “I’m just sad that I miss out on a lot of the puppy growth marks, like the different milestones that they hit. Missing out on him being a puppy is one of them, but I’m not totally upset about missing the housebreaking part.” 

Grady got to spend the weekend with Simon prior to taking him to training. She picked him up on April 23 and Simon came to school with Grady on April 26. This is when he met Sunny, Fenton High’s original therapy dog.

“They got along great,” District Media Specialist and Handler of Sunny the Therapy Dog Rachael Hassell said. “Mrs. Grady brought Simon down to the Media Center two or three times to play. So far, there is not a person or animal that Sunny hasn’t gotten along with, so I think that Simon and Sunny will make a great team together. Sunny is often in high demand. There have been several occasions where Sunny is visiting one class and I get a request for him to go somewhere else at the very same time. With a second dog, we hopefully won’t have to turn opportunities like that down because there will be two times the love to go around.”

In addition to the cost of the dogs, the cost of training Simon and Bella, the ASD Peer-2-Peer communication/therapy dog, can be over $6,000 per dog. With the cost being so large, the school is actively looking for community partners interested in sponsoring Simon and Bella and supporting the Fenton Tiger Paw Patrol program. Although the cost is significant, the Fenton High administration believes it’s worth it.

“Most pet owners realize how much joy, laughter and support a pet can bring to a family,” Principal Laura Lemke said.“The same is true for a working therapy dog to his/her school. A pet can cheer you up, sit next to (or on top of you) when you are sad or lonely to keep you company. They can be a sounding board when you need to talk but don’t want to talk to someone who will talk back; they are loving, supportive and want nothing more than to be a friend. I don’t think anyone would be surprised to learn that pet adoptions during the global pandemic increased dramatically. People shut in, unable to travel or see family, sought solace and comfort in a furry friend instead.”

When his vest is taken off, Simon will know he’s off duty for the day and will continue his regular dog life.

“They’re trained with their vest so they know when they put their vest on, they’re at work and when they don’t have their vest on, they’re at home,” Grady said. “It’s like a uniform. At home, he’ll just be a normal dog and one of two dog children of mine.”

After doing the research, Fenton High realized the long list of benefits therapy dogs have for students.

“I think that therapy dogs are beneficial for schools because of the emotional, physical and cognitive benefits that they create for students,” Grady said. “The physical benefits promote a positive mood, reducing stress and anxiety and lowering blood pressure. The emotional benefits are dogs are good listeners and non judgemental, increasing student confidence, reduction of aggressive and antisocial behaviors, increasing the capacity for empathy in students, creating bonds and establishing trusting relationships. The cognitive part is increasing reading skills, stimulating memory and problem solving skills and optimizing executive functioning skills.”

Students can expect to see Simon near the Square and counseling office during the school day after he has completed training. Currently, the goal is to have Simon at Fenton High this fall. To donate to the Fenton Tiger Paw Patrol program, donations can be made through the Fenton Education Foundation website or the Fenton Tiger Paw Patrol website at https://sites.google.com/fentonschools.org/fentontigerpawpatrol/home?authuser=0