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Meet Scout, the first facility dog at Muskegon Public Schools

To help reduce stress and anxiety in schools, Priority Health and Canines for Change created Priority Pups, which will start by placing five facility dogs in select Michigan school districts.
Scout the facility dog
Posted at 6:11 PM, Sep 11, 2023

MUSKEGON, Mich. — There's a pup-ular new employee at Bunker Elementary School in Muskegon.

Scout the Goldendoodle was already bringing smiles to students on day one.

“It's amazing to watch the watch Scout work.," said Matthew Cortez, the Muskegon Public Schools superintendent. "He can look at people and instantly tell, and I don't know how it happens, but he instantly can just tell when somebody needs him by their side, and he'll just walk up to the person.”

Cortez has seen firsthand how stress can negatively impact his students.

That's where Scout comes in. He's a facility dog, introduced to make everyone feel more relaxed and refreshed.

It's a first for Muskegon Public Schools.

“It's just going to revolutionize how we can emotionally bridge that gap with a lot of our students," Cortez said.

It's also a first for Priority Health, thanks to its new Priority Pups program.

“We want to make sure that kids are being well taken care of," said Praveen Thadani, president of Priority Health. "So that's our intent with this program. It's quite that simple. There's a lot of evidence that therapies with puppies are very effective, and that's what we're going to try and do with the Muskegon schools.”

According to Wedgwood Christian Services, more than half of Michigan parents say they are concerned about the mental state of their children.

That's why dogs, like Scout, go through special training to fit the specific needs of whatever school they land in.

One day at Bunker Elementary School, and the benefits are showing already.

“As I got here this morning, I was told that there was a young, young man who was having some hesitation getting into school because of some anxiety issues," Thadani said. "With the help of Scout, he was able to come in and have a really productive day at school.”

Scout is a year old now, but he's been training since he was eight weeks old with Canines for Change, which has 45 dogs like Scout.

His work, they said, will be a full time job.

“So, the dog works all day, every day, with the staff member," said Dr. Nikki Brown, executive director of Canines for Change. "[The dog] gets breaks in their office or classroom periodically, but really, has a full day of work.”

The Priority Health plan is to eventually introduce dogs to five other school districts in the state of Michigan. Cortez hopes to have dogs like Scout across all schools in his own district in Muskegon.

For now, everyone involved is calling this a good first step.

“That's how much of a game changer they have been, and they will be in the future," Cortez said.

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