Everybody Loves Raymond: Service dog learns along with students at CCHS
By James Grob, email@example.com
Jenae Noonan, one of the Spanish teachers at the high school, has her third service dog in training attending class this year. Raymond is in training to be a service dog, and with the help of Charles City students, he’s learning how to behave in an area with lots of people surrounding him.
A year ago, Noonan talked to the Charles City Community School District Board of Education about the Retrieving Freedom foster dog program and introduced Rocky, a two-year-old Labrador, who was present at school on Fridays and some Mondays as part of his training to become a service dog for a veteran, a child with autism or an individual with diabetes.
Noonan said the service dogs are an asset in her classroom. She said that when students are learning Spanish it can be intimidating to try to speak the language out loud, and Rocky is a “non-judgmental listener.”
“He’s not going to make fun of them, he’s not going to make them feel bad for being wrong,” Noonan said. “Nothing can go wrong there.”
Retrieving Freedom Inc. is a non-profit organization based in Waverly, dedicated to training service dogs to help people. Several school districts are participating in the program. The service dogs help improve the lives of the people they are placed with and help with specific chores and perform tasks associated with their training.
Keegan Birkicht, the Iowa unit director for Retrieving Freedom Inc., was the guest speaker at the Veterans Day ceremony that was held Monday morning in the Comet Gym at Charles City Middle School. She explained some of the things the program’s trained support animals can do.
Birkicht said a trained service dog can help a veteran deal with stress, safety concerns, brain injuries and physical disabilities.
Retrieving Freedom trains dogs — mostly Labradors — to help veterans living with post-traumatic stress disorder and injuries sustained during their service, as well as children with autism.
“Dogs are very loyal, they’re very happy,” Birkicht said. “I think there’s a lot we can learn from dogs. We can learn loyalty, we can learn respect, to live in the moment, and to be grateful for the little things.
“They love unconditionally and they don’t judge,” she said.
Noonan said that when she interviewed for a position at Charles City, she was asked questions about how she would make herself more involved in the community and how she could make an impact.
“It was a very natural reach for me to go to Retrieving Freedom and try to make that connection.” she said. “I’m getting my students to see how important volunteering is, and how disabilities are not necessarily something that you can always see.”