He never wears a cape. He can’t fly or see through walls. He does have bionic hearing but so do a lot of his friends. He can’t leap tall buildings in a single bound and he certainly doesn’t wear a specially made suit of rubber. But make no mistake. Hunter the Jenison Therapy dog is a SUPER HERO!
Hunter works in the ECC and Elementary schools around Jenison and serves as the students best friend, especially in stressful or difficult times. When traveling to the different buildings Hunter may either visit a classroom that has unique students in the room who benefit from Hunter’s company or if Mrs Smith, Behavioral Specialist and Hunter’s owner says when she has to do an observation without Hunter there are teachers in every building who “feel strongly that they should be the ones to babysit Hunter.”
5th Grader, Quinntin Pasquino [see above with Hunter] spends time with Hunter and has earned the privilege of walking him around the playground from time to time. “But you cannot bring him around B-A-L-L-S. We spell it out because he knows what I’m talking about.” Mrs Smith adds, “In order to earn the right to walk with Hunter students have to be successful in school, have good behavior and all of their work done.”
Another of Hunter’s closest friends, 6th grader Cole Timmer, says that while Hunter does spend a lot of time in Mrs Smith’s office he also walks around and visits classrooms but never the cafeteria during lunch. [And I think we know why!]
Hunter can be intimidating to some students who are afraid of dogs but Mrs Smith says that they use him to help the students with exposure therapy. “We’ve been able to help those students conquer their fear. Over the summer I teach the extended school year for the autism program and we had a student who two years ago was afraid of Hunter and then we ended this summer with him holding the leash, taking Hunter for walks, independently approaching Hunter and that’s really neat to see.”
Cole has been able to go with Mrs Smith and Hunter to the Eastbrook Mall on the fifth grade economy field trip, the Grandville Library and Hager Park. “Hunter is good for when I’m having a hard time to calm myself down and when I’m overstimulated I go to Mrs Smith, pet Hunter and he helps me calm down.”
Hunter has been part of the Jenison family since the 2011 – 2012 school year when Mrs. Smith joined as a special ed teacher. He was rescued from Lake Haven Rescue and trained through West Michigan Therapy Dogs. Hunter had to qualify for 6 – 8 weeks of training by passing an obedience test followed by “a more stringent obedience class at the end to show that the dog can handle their responsibilities.” Therapy dogs like Hunter are not considered service dogs but are trained to be a calming presence. “With kids like Quinntin and Cole it’s amazing. I think they have some great strategies where they might come to Hunter [on their own] so they’ve had a lot of growth. But I also work with some other kids who may not have those strategies to know, “Hunter may help me calm down” so we bring Hunter to them. We can visibly see them start to calm down.”
Cole says that when Hunter is around “my days are better at school all because of Hunter and Mrs Smith.” Cole’s parents have seen the value of Hunter in Cole’s life and are planning to train their dog as a therapy dog as well.
Quinntin adds, “My school day is better when Hunter’s around because I’m kind of upset sometimes and he comes by me and I roll his B-A-L-L-S for him and we play for a little bit, I pet him, I talk to Mrs Smith and he calms me down.” And while Cole says Hunter is leading Quinntin away from trouble, Quinntin contends he’s simply leading him towards the fence.
While Hunter let Mrs Smith and his friends do all the talking on his behalf it’s clear that he is a vital and unique member of the Jenison team. Our students have better success in the classrooms and are learning the skills they need to handle difficult social and academic situations.