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JoAnna Lou
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School Safety Dogs
Training pups to protect children

Imagine going to school, a place that's supposed to be safe, only to be welcomed by a metal detector and security guards. That's unfortunately the reality at many schools these days, including the elementary school that I attended as a kid.

I strongly believe that violence breeds more violence, so I've always thought there must be a better way to prevent gun tragedies in schools. Dogs are great at assisting police as well as creating goodwill in the community, so why not use them in schools?

Two new companies, American Success Dog Training and K9s4KIDs, are setting out to explore the possibility of using specially trained dogs as an alternative way to protect schools. Their pups can be trained to detect weapons and can even learn to disengage a person with a gun, just like police dogs. They can also be used in lessons to teach compassion.

After the tragedy at Sandy Hook Elementary School in Newtown, Conn., Mark Gomer decided to start American Success Dog Training and use his experience training dogs to help protect school children.

Mark's first full-time safety dog, a one year-old Dutch Shepherd named Atticus, reported to duty this September at Oak Hills High School in Green Township, Ohio, at a cost of $10,000. Atticus trained during the summer, learning to perform his duties among distractions like marching bands, school bells, and locker door slamming. Atticus spends the day with two security guards and goes home with Principal John Stoddard at night. The kids love him and many parents have expressed comfort in knowing Atticus is at their school.

For districts who can't afford such a hefty price tag, Kristi Schiller began her non-profit, K9s4KIDs, after law enforcement agencies applying for trained dogs through her K9s4COPs program suggested she expand to academia. If a school applies for and is chosen to receive a dog, K9s4KIDS provides the training, but it's up to school officials to decide who will be the handler, who the dog will live with, and what specific tasks will be taught.

There's a lot of potential for school safety dogs to prevent tragedy by helping with security and providing education and comfort. I'm looking forward to seeing more schools take advantage of these talented pups.

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JoAnna Lou is a New York City-based researcher, writer and agility enthusiast.

Photo by K9s4COPS.org.

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