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School dog would be a good investment for Rib Lake

School dog would be a good investment for Rib Lake School dog would be a good investment for Rib Lake

A proposal to have an in-house therapy dog at Rib Lake middle and high school is a low-cost, and low-risk effort to potentially make a large impact on student mental health in the district.

District leaders should move forward with researching and acquiring a therapy dog to have it in place by the beginning of the 2024-2025 school year.

A few years ago, Rib Lake Middle/High School principal Kirsten Budimlija read articles about how therapy dogs were being used in schools in the state to help counselors work with students going through trauma and how they are beneficial in encouraging young people to open up about issues and events.

The idea got pushed to the back burner with the disruptions in schools in recent years. Now, however, with a renewed focus on the mental health and wellbeing of students, and access to grant funds for that purpose, Budimlija brought a proposal to a recent school board meeting about getting a school dog.

At first glance, the idea seems like one of those items pulled out of context by talk radio hosts to complain about waste in schools. If the choice were between buying text books or buying a dog, there are many who might appropriately question the investment.

However, with grant funds available to pay for the purchase, training and start-up expenses, the financial risk to the district is minimal. The few hundred dollars for food and veterinary expenses over the course of a year would have a negligible impact on the district’s budget. In reality, these costs could likely be covered through community donations or a designated fundraiser as they have been in places like DePere Unified School District which started its program in 2021.

The ultimate goal of the program is to improve student mental health. As any dog owner knows, dogs are great listeners and people, especially those who are hesitant to talk to adults, may feel more comfortable talking about concerns with the dog present. A well-trained dog presents a calming influence on many people.

School dogs have also been used successfully for student reading skills. A student who is shy about reading aloud in front of classmates, can have success practicing their reading skills to a dog.

Beyond these uses there is a hard to quantify morale boost among both students and staff with a school dog present in the building. Districts with dogs have reported wide ranging positive responses across groups within the districts.

There are still plenty of questions and work that needs to be done before district leaders make a final decision on if a school dog is the right fit for Rib Lake schools. Rib Lake has history of positive innovation in its schools that has paid off in school and community relations and consistently strong educational results. It is not surprising that Rib Lake schools would continue to be innovators in looking to address mental health and wellbeing concerns among students.

Rib Lake school leaders should continue to research having a school dog with the goal of getting one in place.

Budimlija presented to school board members about a proposal to have a school therapy dog.