Sue Schneider, left, shows off  therapy dog Bear to the Roseville Community Schools Board of  Education at its meeting June 3.

Sue Schneider, left, shows off therapy dog Bear to the Roseville Community Schools Board of Education at its meeting June 3.

Photo by Donna Agusti


Roseville teacher campaigns for therapy dog program in classroom

By: Brendan Losinski | Roseville - Eastpointe Eastsider | Published June 25, 2019

 Therapy dogs such as Bear  can help facilitate situations that  make it easier for children to communicate or reach out.

Therapy dogs such as Bear can help facilitate situations that make it easier for children to communicate or reach out.

Photo provided by Sue Schneider

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ROSEVILLE — One Roseville educator is campaigning to reintroduce a therapy dog program at Roseville Middle School to assist students in the special education program.

That teacher is Sue Schneider, a special education teacher who teaches seventh grade math at Roseville Middle School. For six weeks during the 2018-2019 school year, she brought her dog, Bear, into the classroom to aid her students in what she said were unique and highly beneficial ways.

“They never had a therapy dog program officially, but the dog came to school with me the first six weeks, and then someone higher up than me questioned the validity of the dog, and the district checked on a few things and said, based on their insurance, the dog couldn’t be part of the district, even though I carry $1 million of liability, personally, for the dog,” Schneider said.

The district said Schneider could no longer bring Bear in because such an animal is not covered by their insurance.

“The insurance won’t cover it. It’s not a service dog for an individual; it’s supposed to be for the whole class, which is different,” said Roseville Community Schools Superintendent John Kment. “Besides, some kids are afraid of dogs and some are allergic.”

Schneider said that therapy dogs fill a unique role and should not be confused with service dogs or emotional support dogs.

“There are three categories of animals: a service animal, which does a job such as a leader dog for the blind. My daughter has a service dog to help her pull her wheelchair, for example. It’s assigned to one person,” she said. “An emotional support dog goes places with people to help them with anxiety. A therapy dog is owned by someone like myself but is designed to help multiple people. Bear, for example, used to go to the Children’s Hospital (of Michigan) and help several patients.”

The district said the rules as they currently stand don’t allow for a non-service dog in school buildings.

“A service dog would be one thing, but you can’t bring a dog into the classroom every day,” said Kment. “We have the biggest insurance company in the state, and they say they can’t cover it. If other districts are doing it, I can’t speak to that.”

Schneider said studies show that therapy animals can facilitate situations that make it easier for children to communicate or reach out. She said the experience she had in the classroom with her own students supported those points.

“It can be easier to talk to a dog if you have problems,” said Schneider. “(Bear) went to a bunch of different classes, and the students in Spanish class named him Secret Agent Oso, because ‘oso’ is Spanish for ‘bear.’ I had one young lady who doesn’t communicate very much, and she was able to express how she was feeling to our social worker when Bear was present. We also have programs where students can talk things through, and having the dog there makes things easier when there is someone there to snuggle or pet. It reassures you and lets you express your emotions. It doesn’t judge you or get angry when you say something. The kids brighten right up when they see Bear.”

She added that Bear had a lot of training and experience as a therapy animal before being brought to the school.

“I saw the great results of bringing a dog into the classroom. The dog was trained as a leader dog and is registered as a therapy dog. He was on staff at Children’s Hospital for a year. Bear’s a great dog and I think he made a big difference for students.”

While Schneider believes a therapy dog would be a great help to Roseville Community Schools, she wanted to make it clear that she is not criticizing the district’s decision, but rather wants it to reexamine the issue to see the potential benefits that a therapy dog program could provide.

“I am appreciative to the district for the six weeks he was here. I want to acknowledge that,” said Schneider. “Whether the board will allow him to come back or not, I hope to make a case to the school board to allow therapy dogs in the classroom. … I want people to be open to the possibilities of the good that a therapy dog can do. Therapy animals are still sort of a new territory, and I don’t think that people understand it and may be intimidated by it initially.”

Schneider said she doesn’t want to upset the structures that allow certain pets into classrooms, but wants to widen that perspective.

“I didn’t want to cause other classes or other districts to lose their animals,” she said. “I just want to know why Roseville Schools says no when other districts say yes. He is not an emotional support dog.  He’s a dog who is there to specifically assist students.”

Call Staff Writer Brendan Losinski at (586) 498-1068.

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