While working for Portage Township Schools for the last 20 years as a home school adviser (mental health counselor) I have been blessed to meet, work and build relationships with many wonderful people.
As a mental health counselor you deal with myriad issues and problems that our school children and families face each and every day. Working with students is both challenging and rewarding. As a counselor you always look for creative ways to connect with students to build trust.
Breaking down walls, peeling back attitudes and looking beyond the surface can be challenging, but it’s truly the only way to get to the feelings behind behaviors. A lot of our kids feel useless, unwanted or invisible and life/school can be hard enough without this added stressor.
Four and a half years ago, I was presented with the opportunity to receive a comfort dog from Lutheran Church Charities and Holy Cross Church. That opportunity has changed me not only as a counselor, but as a person.
Prince, a 9-year-old trained comfort dog, was placed with my family to work with me in Portage schools. Prince has been by my side each and every day these past four and a half years, providing students and staff unconditional love and acceptance.
During some of the most difficult times at Portage High School, such as student or staff deaths, Prince has served as a beacon of hope, offering peace and comfort to those who hurt deeply. Sometimes, that hurt can be so deep and profound that there simply are no words. Prince responds to that need, that sadness, with no words, only his presence reminding us that sadness, just like joy, is a universal emotion and there is comfort in knowing that we are not alone in those moments.
Prince has been a pen pal to second-graders, a reading buddy for middle school students, Batman during Halloween, walked in parades, cruised the football field during games and for his last time will walk the seniors out on graduation.
He has also eaten countless french fries and appears to really enjoy the cafeteria. Prince not only has had a huge impact in Portage, but also around the country from the tornadoes last year in southern Indiana to Sandy Hook in Newtown, Conn.
Service dogs work for approximately six years before they are retired. Prince has completed his term and will be retiring at the end of this school year. It is a bittersweet time. He has served our students and staff well and has gone above and beyond the call of duty. Holy Cross Church has planned for this day and has worked tirelessly to fundraise and collect money for Prince’s replacement.
During these past four years, Prince was always ready in the morning, waiting at the door to come to school. The students and staff have embraced Prince as a member of their family. His presence will be sorely missed. He will be remembered for his excellent listening skills and unconditional love and acceptance of others. That is all we can ask of a companion and friend, and that is more than enough.
Those will prove to be some pretty big paws to fill!
This column solely represents the writer's opinion.