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 Champ, an 11-month-old black Lab, visits Mary Helen Guest Elementary School March 12.

Champ, an 11-month-old black Lab, visits Mary Helen Guest Elementary School March 12.

Photo by Donna Agusti

Walled Lake Schools' dog therapy program a barking success

By: Sherri Kolade | West Bloomfield Beacon | Published March 21, 2019

 Kaia Mead, 8, a fourth-grader at Mary Helen Guest Elementary School, gets to pet new school therapy dog Champ March 12 at the school.

Kaia Mead, 8, a fourth-grader at Mary Helen Guest Elementary School, gets to pet new school therapy dog Champ March 12 at the school.

Photo by Donna Agusti


WALLED LAKE — A shy black Labrador retriever, Champ, walked the red carpet March 12 at Mary Helen Guest Elementary School, 1655 Decker Road, to a welcoming song sung by the elementary choir.

Walled Lake Schools’ first dog therapy program was launched with a ribbon-cutting ceremony that day.

“Welcome home, Champ,” the students and school representatives exclaimed as Champ rested her head on her dog bed and wagged her tail.

“It has been said that dogs motivate us to play, be affectionate, seek adventure and be loyal. We are hopeful that our therapy dog will inspire us to be all of these things and so much more,” Michelle Fiebke-Lang, Guest’s principal, said in a press release.

“We’ve been waiting a long time to welcome you home, Champ,” she said the day of the event, adding that Champ is not even 1 year old yet. “She spent her whole life training for this moment.”

According to the press release, after several months of extensive training, the therapy dog was welcomed with a ceremony by students, staff and community members. She is the first school-owned dog in the county, school officials said that day.

Champ was purchased from Green Acres Lab Michigan, Monica House, a Guest special education teacher, said in a follow-up email.

“She was trained for just over eight months. … Training typically takes 10-14 months,” she said in the email.

Champ will wear a vest that will display her business sponsors, veterinarian, pet food store and groomer, the press release states.

“It really is a great honor to welcome Champ to Walled Lake Schools,” WLS Superintendent Ken Gutman said during the event, adding that Guest is the first school in the district to have a therapy dog.

There are no additional costs brought about for the care of Champ, with the exception of an insurance rider that the school district will obtain, the release states.

House added in the email that Champ is owned by the school but stays with her.

“I am a teacher in the building and my son attends here as well,” House said in the email. “It will be my responsibility to make sure she goes to school, district and community events year-round. Champ will go for a (weeklong) training refresher course every summer with the trainer, who will determine when it is time for her to retire.”

House added that Champ “will be in school all day, every day.”

Champ will get 60 minutes of physical education, 60 minutes of media center time and 60 minutes of rest.

“The remaining times, she will be in classrooms,” House said in the email.  “Any staff interested in having Champ in their classroom/area must be trained.”

House said that the school reached out to parents beforehand to find out about allergies and fears.

“We have one student with allergies, but as long as she has her eyedrops, she is OK,” House said, adding that the school will take all allergies seriously and develop a plan to address them. “Almost half of our students have dogs, and they are already bringing in dander on their clothes and backpacks.”

She said Guest had five students with fears of dogs, and “we are now down to one.”

“We developed plans for each student with their families. The one who is still afraid is OK with Champ around but does not want to be close to her,” House said.

Champ will provide physical, social, cognitive, emotional and environmental support for students while lowering stress, the release states.

Kaia Mead, a Guest fourth-grader, said after the event that she thinks it’s “cool” that Guest has a therapy dog.

“Because when I’m stressed, I can pet it,” the owner of two dogs and a cat said excitedly. She added that she will also read to Champ.

“We are a school fit for champs,” Fiebke-Lang said.