Updated: 01/28/2014 6:01 PM
Created: 01/28/2014 5:51 PM KSTP.com
By: Megan Stewart
While students at school in Lakeville had the day off on Monday and Tuesday, there was still one eager learner running up and down the halls.
And despite his furriness, he's pretty popular.
Hero is Eastview Elementary's new school resource dog and the yellow lab might become a regular presence in the school as soon as mid-February.
Principal Taber Akin said the school has been integrating him in first grade classrooms with two 4-week pilot tests. During this time, Hero helped special needs students with activities like moving to new classrooms.
The school also had below-grade students read to the 3-year-old dog as an incentive to better develop the skill and self-confidence, Akin said.
"Its a different experience than you might get with a teacher or an adult," Akin said.
The positive results have led to the school board passing a vote to allow Hero to be a full-timer. Akin, a dog lover and owner, said the idea became a possibility after extensive research and proven results. Kenwood Middle School in Lakeville has a dog come in once-a-week.
Hero has learned over 100 different commands and can be used as a mobility dog with challenged students, Akin said. He is also a trained diabetic alert dog.
Unless he is in a kennel or closed room, Hero will always be on a leash with a trainer. The school currently has a teacher and a parent training to become handlers.
"When students take him on a walk, he'll have two leashes," Akin said. "One for the student and a longer one for the trainer so the trainer can hang back while the student takes control."
Student health is one of the reasons for the gradual implementation, Akin said. With allergies and some students afraid of dogs, they want to see how well Hero will be received once-a-week before they bring him in for more.
"We recognize we are bringing an animal into the school," Akin said. "It's completely optional. No student will ever be forced to work with the dog. We also use a separate space for the kids and the dog to interact. He is out of classrooms and away from students with allergies."
A survey issued to parents in November came back with 80 percent positive responses. Taber said the the other 20 percent focused around three questions; funding, allergies and students fears.
Due to Lakeville's larger classroom sizes and seemingly shrinking resources, parents were concerned about allocating money towards the canine that could be put towards other educational needs, Akin said.
But the principal has plans for Hero to be entirely donor-supported. He is hoping the school can raise an initial $5,000 for food and veterinarian care.
The school has already teamed up with two Lakeville businesses to start fundraising efforts. Threads & Inks is designing t-shirts and Affinity Plus Credit Union will match each donation from its customers.
On Friday evening, Hero will graduate from a 2-year training academy put on by Pawsitive Perspectives Assistance Dogs, based in Savage.