It was a party, but Jeb the basset hound was leery of the men, at first.
Part of Jeb’s training had been in a prison where the dog may have seen plenty of aggressive behavior, owner John Hullinger said.
“But once he gets to know you, he’s quite friendly,” he said.
Jeb is a professional therapy dog, trained to help children in Hullinger’s Clinton school. Owners of such dogs met, some for the first time, Sunday at Neil Armstrong Elementary School in Bettendorf. There are about 75 such dogs in the Quad-City region, and about 25 attended.
Hullinger said that Jeb helps him calm kids with behavior disabilities. He’s even been known to detect a child in a crowd who’s having an extra stressful day. Hullinger then can help.
Taxi, a yellow Labrador, was excited to get to know every other dog there. Taxi’s owner pulled hard on the leash.
Neil Armstrong counselor Shelley Klaas has Zipper, a Newfoundland dog she uses in her life skills classes to model good behavior, “like patience, practice, perseverance.”
He also helps calm down children with behavior disorders who might be angry, she said.
“He does a much better job of that than I do,” she said with a laugh.
She said that kids who have reading problems do better when they read one-on-one to Zipper because the dog isn’t judgmental and doesn’t embarrass them.
Kids are also taught to ask to pet Zipper so they don’t get in the habit of approaching dogs and presuming they’re friendly enough to pet.
Lennox the black Lab goes to school with his owner Doreen Jones of Cedar Rapids, Iowa. Jones is a reading teacher, so Lennox gets read to all day. Kindergartners use him as a pillow.
Many of the dogs there were trained and placed by Sarah Holbert of Care Dogs in Concordia, Kan. The dogs are trained for professional therapy (like Jeb) or service dogs for medical alerts (seizures, heart problems, blood pressure) or developmental disabilities, including multiple sclerosis, cerebral palsy and autism.
“Dogs have an incredible sense of smell, and that’s what they’re using,” Holbert said. “We’re just training them to use their nose in a different way.”
Holbert said they try to start training the dogs at 8 weeks old. They’re then put in foster homes for more basic training.
Their advanced training picks up when they are 1 year old and goes for about six months before they are placed. Owners go through a week of training to learn the commands, and then the dogs are placed in the field at nursing homes, preschools and malls. Holbert’s service dogs cost $2,500, but others can go for as much as $30,000, depending on the training required.
“When a dog can alert someone that the owner is about do go into a diabetic coma, that’s a life-saving dog,” Holbert said.
Karen Bernick’s daughter, Hope, is in a wheelchair and her black Lab Tabor is her lifeline.
“He’s her companion,” Karen Bernick said. “He can get the phone for her and picks up things (off the floor).”
Bridger the Labrador goes to school with Kayleen Turner in Camanche, Iowa. Sky works at McKinley School in Davenport with Dan Hafner. Kade is a standard poodle and helps Bettendorf’s Alex Locey avoid seizures.
To learn more about service dogs, the website is caresks.com or call (785) 243-1077. Holbert said there are about 150 such schools for dogs, but only a handful which offer the very specialized training that she does.