By BRENNA GRITEMAN
Truman’s tail wagged enthusiastically, his brown eyes shining brightly, as some 330 elementary students moved past him single-file and introduced themselves by way of a quick pat on the yellow Lab’s back.
The 2-year-old pup gave a few approving sniffs and snuck a couple quick treats from his handlers as he patiently greeted the third-, fourth- and fifth-graders at Chamberlin Hill Intermediate School on Friday. Within the hour, he was doing the same with the K-2 crowd at Jefferson Primary, where he will split his duties as therapy dog.
Truman’s debut was a surprise to the young crowd who had been called to an afternoon assembly in the school gym. There, they learned that the pup will spend time with them in their classrooms and in the school library, while visiting the school counselor, at recess and during the occasional jittery moments leading up to a big test. As Jefferson and Chamberlin Hill are sister schools, the youngest students will have Truman as a classmate for all six years.
Chamberlin Hill principal Lyndsey Stephenson said the therapy dog will be an especially helpful tool in the school guidance program and will be a valuable asset to students with special needs. Truman will also help students having anger episodes take their mind off their negative feelings and return to a state of calm.
Truman was purchased through PTO funds from Assistance Dogs for Achieving Independence (ADAI) of Sylvania, Ohio. He splits his living arrangements with second-grade Jefferson teacher Rebecca Wank, who introduced him to the students Friday, and with Jefferson principal Kim Plesec.
Wank explained that while Truman was being trained as a school therapy dog, he was fostered by Patrice Victor, who cared for the dog since he was about 9 months old. Wank called Victor’s willingness to turn over the pup to the students in Findlay “one of the greatest gifts of love I can imagine.”
Victor said Truman has a very “laid-back personality” and, like most dogs his age, loves playing fetch and Frisbee. He has undergone extensive training in a school setting, getting him acquainted with loud noises like school bells, locker doors slamming shut, gym class and the general boisterousness that comes with elementary-age students.
Wank assured the students that Truman has “very good manners and he doesn’t bite.” She did stress, however, that any child who is afraid of dogs or who has canine allergies should make sure their parents make note of these on the permission slips that will be sent home next week. That will help teachers and staff keep Truman out of any setting that could make a student uncomfortable.
The students were also advised on how to pet their new friend. Interactions should be limited to three pets from the ears back when other students are waiting to greet Truman, and no fingers should come in close proximity to the dog’s eyes.
“Sometimes he’ll roll over and you can give him a belly rub. But let’s just avoid the ears and the eyes,” Wank cautioned.
Older alumni of the two schools are likely very familiar with proper therapy dog handling, as Truman is taking the place of Jewels, who served the students for 11 years. Jewels worked in the schools daily for eight years but has moved toward retirement over the past two years after undergoing a cancer-related leg amputation.
Jenny Barlos, a staff member at ADAI, remembers bringing Jewels to Findlay 11 years ago. She told the students she was proud to deliver them another trusted companion.
“We knew that you needed a new friend and I’m happy today to intoduce you to True Truman, and he will be your true friend,” Barlos told them.