Meet Victory Ridge Academy’s Superstar, Dub the Service Dog
by TERESA SCHIFFER
If there’s one face familiar to all at Victory Ridge Academy, it’s Dub, the dog. Dub, short for Dublin, has been working at the school for children with special needs for the last 10 years. Dub is a Labrador retriever who has been with the school since he was donated at eight weeks old. His “person” is Ellynne Draper, a kindergarten teacher at Victory Ridge, and she told us a little bit about what life at the school is like for Dub.
Unlike other service animals, Dub is a facility dog. That means that he is owned by the school itself. Generally, service animals are owned by a person who brings them to schools, hospitals, et cetera for therapeutic interactions with students or patients. Dub is owned by the school and goes home at night with Draper. A facility dog is more specially trained for the facility he/she is working at.
Draper likes to use Dub when she is doing sequencing in her classroom. She talks about grooming and feeding Dub with her students, and how that is done in a specific order. The kids then get to enact those tasks, reinforcing the idea of sequencing that they are working on.
Dub is also used as a motivator in many situations. He is what they at the school consider a novel item, so, for example, he may be used to motivate students in speech therapy. Having Dub present gives the student and speech therapist something to talk about. With more skilled students, they may use Dub to come up with adjectives. Dub also acts as a suitable topic for informative essays for older students.
Occupational therapists often work on activities of daily living and fine motor skills. Working with Dub can help reinforce these skills. There are also children with sensory issues who may be aversive to touching or being touched by others. The novelty of Dub the dog can help them overcome their sensory issues. “He’s a neat way to kind of overcome these things,” Draper says.
Physical therapists also utilize Dub to encourage gross motor skills, like walking, throwing, or jumping. Draper says that about 75 percent of what Dub does is motivation. “He’s fun. He’s a big, furry dog, and kids don’t know that they’re learning when they think they’re just playing with him, which is as it should be,” Draper explains.
Dub spends the first part of the day with Draper in her kindergarten class. At lunch time, he goes to the front office, where he spends time with the staff. Working in a special needs school such as Victory Ridge Academy can be stressful and demanding, so Dub serves a therapeutic role in the office as well. Research has shown that petting a dog can be a very calming activity.
So how does a school like Victory Ridge Academy get so lucky as to have a dog like Dub devoted to them? Ten years ago it was difficult to find an organization that would provide a trained facility dog. There were a few individuals you could buy them from, but the price was prohibitive. Most trained facility dogs cost around $20,000 to $25,000, which was completely out of Victory Ridge’s price range. They contacted some of the companies that provide service dogs for individuals and asked if they could have one of their “reject” dogs. The companies weren’t interested in doing so because they would still be liable for the dog as a working dog.
Eventually, a generous donor donated Dublin as a puppy with the hope that maybe it would work out for the best. He was bred by a family who had children with special needs. So Victory Ridge took the pup and followed the training guidelines laid out by Canine Companions for Independence for the first six or eight months. Then Dub took the American Kennel Club Canine Good Citizens test and passed with flying colors. This is basically the same process one would go through to have a therapy dog approved by an organization that provides insurance.
Growing up at Victory Ridge Academy has allowed Dub the dog to become acclimated to children who may be anywhere on the spectrum, as well as the medical equipment that accompanies some students. There are children who are very quiet and shy, and others with sensory issues that may manifest in screaming meltdowns, and Dub has to be ready for anything thrown his way. Grabbing, pulling, and pinching are not out of the question, and Dub has to be able to handle that without becoming aggressive. Dub is used to seeing walkers, crutches, G-tubes, and other equipment, too. An older dog would have a more difficult time getting used to those sights, sounds, and smells, but because Dub was introduced to this environment as a puppy, this is his normal reality. His lack of accoutrements is for his own safety, so children don’t have anything to grab onto.
Dub is a rockstar at Victory Ridge Academy, and just because he doesn’t wear a vest or collar at school, that doesn’t mean Dub isn’t working. It’s dogs like Dub that remind us of the special bonds that can be formed between animals and humans, and he truly impacts the lives of all those he encounters on a day-to-day basis.