Middle Schoolers Get A Furry Friend

November 17, 2020

It is 2:11 p.m. on a sun-drenched and breezy November day.

The world is spinning a thousand different directions, but in language arts teacher Jessica Blaum’s classroom — inside Bettendorf Middle School — there is calm.

No anger, no frustration, no recounts.

Below me rests Delta, the world’s coolest Bermese mountain dog — a Shaquille O’Neal-sized puppy — who knows her audience. Delta is on break, a much-earned respite from the rigors of middle school. For this particular day, she is done assisting the many youngsters she serves through the trials and tribulations — and there can be many — of pre-teenage and teenage life.

Everyone, it must be noted, has — for the past seven hours — benefited from a little Delta in their day. Me included.

Delta is a professional therapy dog — and is a professional on all fronts. When her blue vest is on, she is on, working as a service dog with public access accreditation, professionally trained from the age of nine weeks to little over a year by CARES Inc., a nonprofit organization in Concordia, Kansas. When doing business, Delta is all business.

“She knows her role when she is working,’’ Blaum said. “She’s been a great addition.’’

Therapy dogs like Delta have long been a staple of the Bettendorf curriculum, a success from the first day, incorporated into a variety of settings for a number of years. The Bettendorf Community Schools Foundation and Scott County Regional Authority helped fund the training of Delta. “There is school board policy where we get them from,’’ Blaum, a kind soul with a teacher’s heart, said of CARES, Inc. “It’s all well-regulated and is a huge reason why it (CARES) is so successful. Anybody can take their dog and get them certified as a therapy dog, but CARES trains dogs for all kinds of professions and are trained to the level of a service dog.’’ In June of 2020, Blaum, Bettendorf Middle School Counselor Michelle Bruty and teacher/librarian Deb Temperly, spent a week in Concordia, where they met Delta and received training on how to work with her. The trio, who share Delta on school days, had to pass a test to become certified handlers. “It was awesome,’’ Blaum said of the training and noting Delta lives with her in her home and two other dogs. “It was fun, it was rewarding, but it was also work to make sure you are ready and prepared for all that comes with handling the dog. On Day 1 they get you in a room and start bringing dogs in. Then they say the dog’s name and who it goes to, but they know what they are doing when putting you together. We had to fill out an application as to what we needed and the needs of the school. They carefully screen each request. CARES has so much success, because it doesn’t try to shoehorn dogs into roles. They look at the dog’s strengths and go from there. It was pretty unique, there were 17 different dogs there for specific training.’’

At Bettendorf Middle School, Delta splits her day between the library, counseling office and classrooms. Sometimes she has appointments with individual students who read to her or have earned “Delta time.’’

“It’s motivation, working to earn time with Delta,’’ Blaum said. “But she also provides emotional support for students having a rough time. She also hangs out in the classroom and students enjoy her calm presence. I can relate a recent incident where a student was experiencing a day of struggles and we matched that student with Delta. The situation calmed itself and the student went on to have a successful day. You truly can see the difference she makes.’’ Blaum says there is a great deal of playful puppy in Delta, something she sees — outside of school — when Delta is not wearing her blue work vest.

“She’s all dog,’’ Blaum said. “When Delta does not have on the blue vest, she is a fun-loving dog, who still has a lot of puppy in her. She runs and plays just like any other dog. She has an amazing personality when we are at school, but she has a role here and she knows it. It’s different when she has on her vest.’’

Something unexpected about Delta and many of the CARES dogs, is training began in a minimum security prison. Most times, a ceremony unites the dogs and the inmates that trained them with their new assignments. Because of COVID-19 restrictions, that did not happen with Blaum, Bruty, Temperly and Delta.

 go to a home.’’ Blaum said Delta being trained by someone incarcerated is a great teaching moment for her students.

“Others in our district who have done that, met the person incarcerated who trained their dog, say that it is the most impactful part of the experience,’’ Blaum said. “You learn how this program has changed the lives of inmates and that it is the best thing they have ever done. Sharing that with a student, that someone can make a mistake and be given a second chance — and does something impactful with that chance — is good for our students to hear. That you can go forward after making a mistake.’’

On this particular day, Delta makes one final walk down the main hallway of Bettendorf Middle. By far, she is the most popular personality in the building. And the perfect compliment to a great place.

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