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Canine Training Program

July 22, 2020

It took two years but Kate Peters has found her perfect match.

Peters, the 2012 Ohio Teacher of the Year, met her facility therapy dog Ember, a two-year-old black Labrador Retriever at Telling Tails in Fryeburg, Maine, on July 13 and the human-animal bond was instantaneous. Ember must have known Peters was going to be her forever human as she walked right over and gave her a big kiss.

Ember is the third dog that Assistance Canine Training Services has placed in the Toledo, Ohio, school system. She will be joining Peters daily at Whitmer High School supporting students and staff there as part of an animal-assisted therapy program.

According to Robin Crocker, A.C.T.S.’ head administrator, Ember will follow Brooke, who in 2017 joined Melanie Robinson (Sylvania, Ohio) to work at Monac Elementary School (Toledo), and Captain in 2018 with Stephanie Moore (Toledo) to work at Greenwood Elementary School (Toledo).

“Both dogs work full-time with their handlers who are school counselors,” she said. “Kate is an English teacher who lives by the motto she shares with her students, ‘Living a Life with Purpose, Living a Life of Love, Kindness Matters.’ She was Teacher of the Year in 2012 and nominated for Women Are Rad in 2020. She has a special connection with her students built through mutual respect, trust, and music.”

Peters expects to further connect with her students using animal-assisted therapy. “The entire school system is over the moon excited to meet Ember,” she said.

A.C.T.S. was started in Center Tuftonboro in 2007 and moved to the Mount Washington Valley in 2014. Since then, the volunteer-run 501(c)(3) non-profit has graduated 30 teams.

Ember was ready for her new assignment, according to Crocker.

“She has been in final training for some time now and is ready to fulfill her destiny,” she said, smiling. “Her puppy raiser, Kelley Brown (of Fryeburg) raised Ember in her second-grade classroom at Molly Ockett School in Fryeburg. Her final training was done by Shelby Packard, who currently coordinates the A.C.T.S. College Puppy Raiser Program at UVM in Burlington, Vermont.”

As a facility therapy dog, Crocker explained that Ember will go to high school daily with Peters.

“She will attend sports events and other extra-curricular activities that Katie attends on a regular basis,” she said. “Facility therapy dogs work full time with their handlers. The A.C.T.S. training program prepares these dogs for the riggers of long days and the stress of the school environment.

Crocker added: “Ember will serve as an emotional aide to calm and comfort individual students with anxiety or trauma. She will help teachers make important connections with their students and serve in a motivational program for students that need assistance. Ember will work with individuals and large groups in a variety of programs designed to help students emotionally and educationally. Katie has a special gift with music and dance used to motivate, educate and connect with her students. She uses her talents to engage her students. Ember is learning some of her own dance moves, and we expect that Ember will be dancing right along with her.”

Peters said her colleagues recommended she apply for a dog through A.C.T.S., and she was willing to wait for the right dog to be ready for her.

Raising and training puppies during the COVID-19 pandemic has presented the A.C.T.S. staff with some new challenges, but they and their four-legged partners have been making adjustments.

“We have used this time to reflect and consider our future and have several standing committees working on plans for growth and what that might look like,” Crocker said. “Classes for puppy raisers are back in session. They are split into a number of groups to keep classes small and maintain social distancing so things are definitely different in these new times, but we are moving forward regardless.”

She added: “All of the dogs have adjusted to the masks with little problem. And all our puppies are now out with full public access although we have restricted their ability to go to medical appointments, the hospital and to grocery stores for now. Otherwise, they are out working.”

Crocker said more puppies are on the horizon and A.C.T.S. is looking for a little help.

“We are desperately looking for new puppy raisers,” she said. “We have slots available for new puppies and for people who might prefer an older puppy. Our biggest wish is for more puppy raisers but we are also looking for soft crates so we can teach the puppies how to be good in soft crates as well as wire crates. We use primarily the 36” size.”

While puppy raisers usually make 18-month commitments to care for the young dogs, Crocker said A.C.T.S. is adding six-month puppy raising opportunities.

Crocker said the graduate dogs from A.C.T.S. are fully trained and placed at a cost of $10,000.

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