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Labradoodle Tracker is Innisdale's newest staff member

Therapy dog is a gentle, loving presence at high school

The newest staff member at Innisdale Secondary School has only been on the job for a total of four days and he's fast becoming a favourite.

Tracker, an adorable, docile, chocolate brown Labradoodle is a therapy dog at the high school who started working twice a week just before March break.

"He's the first one at Innisdale," said proud owner and school guidance counselor Susan Rhee-Schofield.

"Tracker loves people. He's very gentle. He's got a great temperament and he's very smart."

The therapy dog program in high schools has been around for about five years and Rhee-Schofield jumped at the chance to bring Tracker to Innisdale.

The five-year-old pooch was named by Rhee-Schofield's daughter who got Tracker for her 8th birthday as a present from her grandmother.

"When Tracker was a puppy he would follow her around everywhere so she decided Tracker would be a good name because he was tracking her all time," said Rhee-Schofield.

And now he tracks Innisdale's halls and mingles with students and staff.

Tracker successfully completed six weeks of training by the Barrie organization Sweet Charity Medical Assistance Dogs so he could play a therapeutic role at the school.

He had to pass two tests and complete the Canine Ambassador Program before he was awarded his 'uniform' - a bright green vest.

Rhee-Schofield brings Tracker to work Wednesdays and Fridays right now.

"He's tired at the end of the day which is good. When he goes home he gets on his bed and rests," she said.

"But he knows. When I say the word 'school' he kind of perks up, follows me to the mud room and looks up where his vest and work leads are located. He's like 'oh are you taking me today?'  He loves it."

Tracker stays in her office where students can visit, he goes on patrol in the halls and into classrooms at the teachers' request. 

Students flock to his gentle presence and to pet his soft, tight curls of fur.

One student exclaimed she thought she was going to cry as she sat on the floor and touched him.

"He loves human contact and he loves when people pet him," said Rhee-Schofield. 

"Even the toughest students react - 'Oh puppy dog!'  It's almost like it softens up individuals.  Touch therapy.  You can have a conversation with the dog and it feels good. An unconditional friend."

Another dog is in training and potentially could be starting at Innisdale in May, which Rhee-Schofield says will be good for rotation. 

And the students.

"The power of animals and healing is tremendous and especially nowadays with mental health concerns and issues in our building. I think this is just another asset, another way we can support kids in the building."

You can follow Tracker on his own twitter account @Trackerfriend


Sue Sgambati

About the Author: Sue Sgambati

Sue has had a 30-year career in journalism working for print, radio and TV. She is a proud member of the Barrie community.
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