Going To The Dogs

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Students get educated on role of service animals

Members of the Birch Lane Elementary School with Everest the service animal
(Photo by Dave Gil de Rubio)

When the members of the Birch Lane Elementary School Kindness Club were escorted into kindergarten teacher Jennifer Emberley’s classroom, it was with the excited anticipation of meeting a very special furry guest. It turned out to be Everest, a Golden Retriever/black labrador mix who is a service animal donated to the teacher’s nine-year-old son by the Long Island Chapter of Canine Companions for Independence and is the latest addition to Emberley’s family. Everest was coming to help educate the children about the work he and his canine brethren do.
In addition, as part of the Kindness Club’s initiative to participate in community projects, the 19 members were going to weave tug straps, tools the dogs use to help out their masters with opening doors or dragging items over to them. Before Everest came into the classroom, Emberley explained the differences between service animals and their non-working peers and the rules involved with being around them.

Jennifer Emberlee and Everest explaining the role of service animals to the Birch Avenue Elementary School Kindness Club
(Photo by Dave Gil de Rubio)

“You never want to touch them or just walk up and pet them. If they’re out in public, they’re working. And if you go up and pet them, then you’re interrupting his job,” she said. “Everest is a service dog and he can do all sorts of jobs. He can open doors, close drawers, pull a laundry basket and lots of other jobs. They help people to live the life they want to live, just like everybody else, with some help from the dogs.”
She also explained that there were 12 days of training for both the four-legged and two-legged participants to ensure the service animals can be accustomed to being out in public. She also showed the class a video and informed them that service dogs like Everest can do 40 different commands. According to the Medford-based nonprofit, assistance dogs are provided to adults and children with disabilities to increase independence, veterans and professionals who use them in a health care, visitation, criminal justice or education setting. Following the screening, Emberley told the students of how the dogs are trained and paired up with people, who receive these animals free of charge.

“Puppies go to people named puppy raisers, who take care of them for two years, knowing that they’re going to give them away. Because the people that take the puppies in their houses and raise, train and love them, know that they’re going to give them to people with special needs that need help. And that they’re not getting those dogs back,” she said. “Imagine if you have your dog and you know after two years that you’re going to give that dog away. You love it, but it’s going to go to someone who needs it.”

From left: Kindergarten teachers Jennifer Emberlee and Janeen Signorile cuddle up with Everest
(Photo by Dave Gil de Rubio)

Puppies then go to class for six months, where they live at the facility where they are trained. The trainers pay the dogs with kindness. Positive attention and praise is what motivates these dogs.
Once Everest came in, a palpable excitement came over the Kindness Club attendees. After Emberley gave a demonstration of her dog dragging a basket and picking up some items, the students went to work on taking fleece strips donated by a local Girl Scout troop and weaving them into tug straps. Aided by fellow kindergarten teacher and Kindness Club advisor Janeen Signorile, the children broke out into groups of two and three for the remainder of the club session. Amid the excited chattering, the children created roughly eight tug straps and were rewarded with a meet-and-greet with Everest, who alternated between letting his human guests shake his paw or laying across their laps, something service animals are trained to do as a means of comforting people with PTSD or emotional issues. Once pictures were taken and the meeting ended, Emberley had a glow on her face and felt happy about the Kindness Club encounter.

“I’m grateful to Canine Companions for giving our family Everest and I wanted to pay it forward by teaching the children about what companion animals do,” she said. “I wanted them to know that like these dogs, making these tug straps really make a difference and contribute to making the world a better place.”

Visit www.cci.org to learn more about Canine Companions For Independence.

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In addition to being editor of Garden City Life and Syosset-Jericho Tribune, Dave Gil de Rubio is a regular contributor to Long Island Weekly, specializing in music and sports features. He has won several awards for writing from Press Club of Long Island (PCLI).

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