Rudyard School District Welcomes Zebra K9 Safety Dog Team

Rudyard Area Schools, with more than 600 students in pre-kindergarten through 12th grade, has employed a 14-month-old male yellow Labrador retriever, and his handler, Carlos Molina. Molina is a Rudyard resident and 2016 Rudyard graduate who helped lead the district to a district title in basketball and to the semifinals in baseball during his high school years. The full-time onsite team’s focus is detection of firearms and explosives, while providing a unique form of social and emotional support to students, teachers, administrators and parents.

In addition to being reassured that the school buildings are safe, students and staff are invited to interact with the friendly young dog.  

The safety dog team is being fully paid for with Michigan school aid funding for improved school safety and mental health. Rudyard Area Schools is the seventh school district in Michigan and the second in the Upper Peninsula to employ a Zebra K9 safety dog team. The Waterford, Michigan-based Zebra K9 company provides full-time onsite dog teams to schools, hospitals, businesses and events.

Rudyard Area Schools Superintendent Tom McKee, himself a Rudyard Schools alumnus, says he is excited at the opportunity to boost student safety and lower anxieties — at no cost to the district. “Every study that we’ve been able to find,” McKee says, “shows that up to 20 percent of the anxiety level is lowered in the school building just by the presence of a canine.”

The first day of school for the safety dog team is Tuesday, April 2. The first few days in the building — all grades are housed in a single building in the district — will be spent meeting with the students in the hallways and classrooms, encouraging them to pet and get to know Gator. Once they become acquainted with the team, students are instructed to ask Molina if they may pet the safety dog. Gator and Molina will patrol the entire school day.

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