Therapy dog finds its role
Bailey spreads good vibes in Wega-Fremont schools
By James Card
The bell rings and students pour out the classrooms. Some girls pass by the high school commons area and softly coo, “Bailey, Bailey, Bailey.”
They gather around Bailey as if she were the most popular and loved being in the school. They pet her and caress her luxurious hair. Bailey is an eight-month old puppy that is a member of the Weyauwega Police Department.
Bailey wears an official police badge on her blue vest harness. She is a Bernedoodle, a cross between a Bernese Mountain Dog and a poodle. Her law enforcement role is to be a school therapy dog and she is handled by School Resource Officer Heather DeGrand.
DeGrand has been a school resource officer since 2018. She got the idea for a therapy dog years ago and brought it up but it was tabled. Later it was brought up again and she got the green light.
“They are becoming a lot more common, especially with law enforcement agencies. I’ve been to local and national conferences for school resource officers. At the national one there were six therapy dogs there with officers. Wausau has two; New London has a social worker that has a therapy dog. I’ve had people reach out to me about my program and how it works. We’re going to see it more and more,” said DeGrand.
Wolf River Bernedoodles donated Bailey to the police department. At other schools, DeGrand has seen Golden retrievers and Labrador mixes. The advantage of a Bernedoodle is that their fur is hypoallergenic so more students can interact with her without fear of triggering an allergy and also they do not shed much hair which is a bonus for traveling in patrol vehicles. Once full grown, Bailey should weigh around 45 pounds.
Take a Bailey Break
DeGrand has an office at the high school and students can come in to take a “Bailey Break.” When a student is feeling too overwhelmed with schoolwork or is dealing with some problems, they are free to stop in and pet her.
The office has a gate and Bailey has learned to read the school bells. As soon as classes are dismissed and the hallways fill with students, she is at the gate ready for attention.
“I’ve had kids tell me before they don’t like law enforcement. They would have barely said, ‘Hi’ to me before but now I’m having those kids willingly walk into my office and see Bailey and its helped me make that relationship with them,” said DeGrand.
Some students who are not able to participate in gym class can have the option of walking with Bailey through the halls.
“They get credit for gym and Bailey is getting exercise and we can build that connection between me and the student. They can know that I’m someone they can come to and Bailey is here to build that bridge,” she said.
The biggest justification for a therapy dog in the school besides spreading cheer is that the dog saves the community an enormous amount of money and resources.
At a city council meeting earlier this year, Police Chief Brandon Leschke briefed the council on the costs of dealing with a mental health crisis. An officer can be pulled off patrol and be tied up for hours while trying to get a person help with social services while other professionals are pulled into the situation to tend to the person’s needs.
The same goes for schools that muster resources to handle mental health episodes.
“We’ve had students in full-blown panic attacks and we bring Bailey in and she lets the kids pet her and love on her and it brings them right out of the panic attack. Whereas before, we had to call Waupaca County Crisis and have them respond to get the kids out of a panic attack. Bailey is able to do it without having to go to that step,” said DeGrand.
It makes the staff happy, too. Some even referred to Bailey as “their” dog. It gives them a stress relief and it’s a break from their normal everyday situations.
DeGrand and Bailey spend time in all the schools in the district. Some teachers have bought toys just for when Bailey stops by the classroom.
School, work and play
Bailey attended obedience classes at Sleepy Creek Pet Lodge in New London and recently graduated the puppy-level training phase.
So far she has learned the following commands: Heel, Sit, Stay, Come, Look, Touch, Down, and Leave it (important for dropped snacks in the hallways). Eventually she will do more advanced training and earn certifications.
Overnight, Bailey stays with DeGrand and after school gets to play outside with a blue heeler and DeGrand’s two-year old daughter. During school breaks, Bailey will be at summer school and the department is planning on deploying her to reading programs at the library and other community activities. It is important to keep her busy.
“She definitely misses school. During Christmas she was getting a little stir crazy at home. She knows her job,” said DeGrand.
There is one odd thing about Bailey: her tail looks like it was docked but when she was born her tail bones were looped and fused together forming a short nub. It causes her no problems and it is of no veterinary concern.
DeGrand points out that this is special because Bailey, like all of us, was born a little different and that’s just fine. It is something the students can relate to.