Mont Harmon students learn about service dogs by being around one
It is not every day that a junior high school student and her new friend are introduced to classmates at an assembly. But for Mont Harmon 7th grader Ginger Roth and her friend Cocoa, it was such a day last week.
That's because Cocoa is going to be at school every day with Ginger and Cocoa is a dog, a Newfoundland-Poodle mix called a Newdle. Cocoa is a service dog who will be at Ginger's side to make life easier for the 14-year-old girl, who gets around in a wheel chair because she has cerebral palsy.
Classmates have to know how to handle a new situation, so the assembly was called as a learning experience. Ginger and Cocoa were joined on stage by a line of other service dogs and owners, Ginger's mother, Mary Ann Baker, and Orem dog trainer Amanda Pratt.
The prime directive, Pratt explained, is not to pet or distract Cocoa. "Service dogs are taskers, not companions and not pets," she declared. The dog is always on the job and petting or bugging the dog will prevent it from doing that job.
Dogs such as Cocoa go through months of training to do specific tasks. Cocoa will be helping with mobility and balance, doing such things as operating light switches and automatic doors. Other people rely on service dogs for seizure response, and seeing-eye dogs have been helping blind people for generations.
Pointing out the line up of different breeds on stage, Pratt said that any breed, any size or color can be trained. The single common factor among them all is that it takes a really stable dog to become a good service worker.
It also helps if there's a good personality match between dog and owner. Mary Ann Baker said that Ginger tried five dogs until finding Cocoa. The family got the dog from Noelle's Dogs Four Hope in Colorado.