Bonita Is Going to the Dogs!

August 17, 2012
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From left, Jill, Lindsay, and Courtney and their best friend Hazel, who helps kids focus better and better monitor their blood sugar levels.

From left, Jill and her daughters Lindsay and Courtney, pose with their best friend Hazel, an in-service Chocolate Lab who shows up every day at Bonita High School ready to help kids focus better and better monitor their blood sugar levels.

It’s true.

Bonita is going to the dogs.

Starting next week, if you enter anatomy teacher Jill Black’s classroom, you’re as likely to encounter a Chocolate Labrador, Boxer or Coonhound as you are a student.

That’s because, Ms. Black is running Bonita’s expanded service and therapy dog training program in the back of her classroom in addition to teaching students about bones and other body parts.

The program came about last year after student Kaitlin Oakley for her senior project asked if she could train Ms. Black’s Chocolate Lab Hazel. After getting a thumbs up, Oakley trained the dog, tested her and had her certified. Seeing the results that Oakley achieved, Ms. Black also became certified with Hazel.

It didn’t take long for Hazel to be a standout helper, especially working with kids with attention deficit disorders

“As soon as the kids begin to lose focus, Hazel thinks it’s time to play or get attention,” Ms. Black said. “In her mind it’s fun, so she nudges them, and then they realize they’re off track and then they go back to their tasks.”

After receiving constant cold noses and nudges from Hazel for a semester, one student with attention deficit hyperactivity disorder or ADHD saw his test scores improve by 20 percent.

“He also went from three or four hours for a 30-question test to one hour,” Ms. Black said.

But Ms. Black and Oakley found Hazel had other hidden talents, too!

“She saved the life of one of my kids last year,” Ms. Black said. “She somehow alerted a kid whose blood sugar had soared to a dangerously high level. She was at the 600 level, and was probably going to go into a coma.

“We didn’t know why Hazel was acting so crazy. She was trying to knock the kid off her desk and wouldn’t get out of her face, so I said, ‘Check your blood sugar.’ And it was over 640 and she had to go to the hospital. She had no idea it was that high.”

Ever since, Hazel has been a constant companion in Ms. Black’s class, but now Hazel will be joined by five other dogs, loaned out to the program by private individuals, including Bonita principal Robert Ketterling, who is volunteering his Coonhound for training and duty. Each dog will be assigned to a student who will train, test and worked toward getting the get the dog certified.

Besides working with Ms. Black, the student trainers will also work under the supervision and guidance of a professional dog trainer.

“The trainer really helps in identifying and developing each dog’s particular strengths,”’ Ms. Black said.

Should the students go on get their assigned companions certified, they will then earn the privilege of bringing their own dogs to Bonita to be trained.

If the program becomes too successful the school might have to entertain a change in mascots from BearCats to BearDogs!

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