Walled Lake Western High officials say Dakoda will help relieve stress and anxiety among students while boosting self-esteem and engagement.

Walled Lake Western High officials say Dakoda will help relieve stress and anxiety among students while boosting self-esteem and engagement.

Photo by Patricia O’Blenes


Oakland County’s first high school therapy dog brings comfort, companionship

By: Andy Kozlowski | C&G Newspapers | Published September 6, 2019

 Walled Lake Western High’s new therapy dog, Dakoda, receives a warm welcome at the school’s first home football game of the year Aug. 29.

Walled Lake Western High’s new therapy dog, Dakoda, receives a warm welcome at the school’s first home football game of the year Aug. 29.

Photo by Patricia O’Blenes

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OAKLAND COUNTY — The latest addition to the staff at Walled Lake Western High School is a bit unorthodox — covered in fur and walking on four legs, for starters — but she’s expected to be a boon to the emotional well-being of the students there.

Dakoda is a Labrador retriever, 13 months old, who will serve as a therapy dog at the school starting this year — the first high school therapy dog in Oakland County, officials said. She spent the last 10 months undergoing extensive professional training, and she made her grand debut during a ceremony at Walled Lake Western High’s first home football game Aug. 29.

“The ceremony was a great hit among the community,” said Ann Gray, a social worker at the high school.

Dakoda first visited the high school as a puppy, and she is expected to reduce students’ anxiety and stress while boosting their self-esteem and increasing student engagement. The dog is described as having a mild temperament and being very friendly. Dakoda has been taught to “stay,” “sit” and “heel.” She knows to follow her handler through doors and to not jump on people.

The dog’s training was provided by Wing and Shot LLC, in Brandon Township. The family of Beth Chuba, a teacher at Walled Lake Western High, will host Dakoda.

Two other teachers at the high school — Norm Celinske and Krista Santana — will serve as backup families. Dakoda will always belong to the school and will only transfer to backup families if the current teacher hosting her transfers, retires or leaves the district.

In addition to being at the school during normal school hours Mondays through Fridays, Dakoda will be present at most events, both during and after hours.

“Also, (Dakoda) will be utilized in crisis situations when there is a traumatic event that happens at Western, and she could travel to other buildings in the district if they are dealing with any trauma,” Gray explained.

Ali Hamka, the principal at Walled Lake Western High, said hopes are high for the therapy dog.

“Dakoda fits right in with our learning community,” Hamka said. “She brings positive energy and a calming effect. I’m hopeful that she will decrease anxiety and provide a warm and welcoming environment to Western.”

Gray said she’s confident that Dakoda will make a difference.

“Dakoda will positively impact social-emotional issues faced by high school students on a daily basis,” Gray said. “She will have an emotional impact on the overall climate of Western High School.”

Judy Evola, the director of community relations and marketing for the district, said Walled Lake Western High School marketing students and local organizations contributed to the cost of the dog, and a local veterinarian and a dog food supplier are donating ongoing services.

“There is a thorough plan to address any student who has allergies, as we have plans in all of our schools to handle peanut, milk and other allergies that students come to us with,” she said.

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