Rotary Club raises money to place therapy dogs at Birmingham schools

By: Mary Genson | Birmingham-Bloomfield Eagle | Published June 22, 2022

 Snickers is the name of the dog the Rotary Club has funded to work at Berkshire Middle School.

Snickers is the name of the dog the Rotary Club has funded to work at Berkshire Middle School.

Photo provided by Birmingham Public Schools


BIRMINGHAM — Birmingham Public Schools and the Birmingham Rotary Club have been looking for ways to improve mental health in students. They have decided to work together and focus their efforts on providing service dogs at the schools.

Next fall, a therapy dog named Snickers will be working at Berkshire Middle School as a form of emotional support for students. The name Snickers was the winner of the school’s dog naming contest.

Snickers was born in October 2021 and is currently in training to achieve therapy dog accreditation. Before he is working with students, Snickers will have time to become oriented with the school during the summer.

“We are optimistic and hopeful that having a therapy dog, starting with our middle schools, is going to really have some impact on the mental health and learning of our students,” BPS Coordinator for Professional Learning Bill Pugh said.

At a BPS Board of Education meeting May 24,  the Birmingham Rotary Club presented BPS a $20,000 check from its endowment fund. The money is to go towards the acquisition, training and placement of two more therapy dogs at BPS schools.

These two additional dogs will be placed at Derby Middle School and Birmingham Covington School. Once these dogs are placed, all of the BPS middle schools will have a service dog.

These two funded therapy dogs are expected to be born by the end of August of 2022.  If all of the training goes according to schedule, the new dogs are expected to be working at the schools by October 2023.

“Therapy dogs have been shown to not only promote their (students’) mental wellness, but they promote a positive mood, and they do anti-stress work,” Rotary President Elect Marsha Kovacs said.

Kovacs said the plan is for BPS staff to take the dogs in, and they will bring them to work every day

They might also bring the dogs to community and school events.

“The plan is that he (Snickers) will be available all day to the kids for petting, loving, talking, whatever they need,” Kovacs said.

BPS is partnering with 4 Pawz Strong to purchase and train the dogs. These dogs will work exclusively at BPS.

The nonprofit 4 Pawz Strong was started by Karen Storey, a special education teacher and MTSS facilitator at Brighton Area Schools.  This organization also utilizes local veterans to help with the training.

To protect students with allergies, the dogs are groomed regularly to avoid the buildup of dander, Pugh said. The dog’s handlers will also be aware of the students with allergies and will avoid being in close proximity to them.

If a student has a past trauma that has led them to be afraid of dogs, the dog handlers will also avoid bringing the dog close to that student.

“We also are able to problem solve any unique situations with support from Karen Storey, the owner of the nonprofit 4PawzStrong in Brighton, where we purchase our trained dogs. She has years of experience working with therapy dogs in schools,” Pugh said.

The service dogs for Derby Middle schools and Birmingham Covington School were raised at the 2022 Birmingham Rotary Club’s Master Gala.

Each year, the Birmingham Rotary Club uses this event to raise funds to distribute to community and international projects.