Meet Mack: Gill-Montague’s school comfort dog

  • School Resource Officer Dan Miner with Mack, a 5-week-old chocolate Labrador who is set to begin work as a full-time comfort dog for the Gill-Montague School District in March. CONTRIBUTED PHOTO

Staff Writer
Published: 2/27/2020 9:55:33 PM

TURNERS FALLS — A 5-week-old chocolate Labrador named Mack is headed to the Gill-Montague Regional School District next month to become the first full-time school comfort dog in Franklin County.

Mack will work with School Resource Officer Dan Miner to establish stronger rapport with students, and to help in difficult situations involving emotional trauma or other special needs, he said.

Miner, a Montague police officer, is now in his second year as the school resource officer for Gill-Montague. Last year, while taking a class on therapeutic work, Miner heard about a dog breeder in New Hampshire who was donating dogs to police departments.

Miner, Montague Police Chief Chris Williams and Gill-Montague Superintendent Michael Sullivan quickly made an arrangement with the breeder. The School Committee, reviewing the plan this week, was enthusiastic; so was Joanne Menard, the principal of Great Falls Middle School and Turners Falls High School, where Miner spends most of his working hours.

“I’m in full support of Dan (Miner). This is a wonderful tool to add to his toolbox,” Menard said. “We have a lot of children that are impacted by trauma. This would make a huge difference.”

In professional circles, comfort dogs are generally understood to have a calming effect on students, Miner said. He also expects the dog to help him create stronger relationships with the students he works with, and to be especially helpful in situations that require emotional counseling.

“I expect this to bring the students closer to me,” he said. “And it’s certainly going to open me up to more visiting time at the elementary schools.”

Miner said he does not expect Mack to cause problems for students who are allergic to dogs or afraid of them. School comfort dogs typically work in rooms that are larger than those in a house, which prevents problems for students with allergies. Students who are afraid of dogs can work with Miner to become comfortable with Mack, or Miner can be sure to keep Mack at a safe distance, he said.

When Mack arrives in March, he will be the only comfort dog working full-time at a school in Franklin County. (The Greenfield Police Department has a dog who works at Greenfield’s schools, but not full-time, Miner said. Northampton in Hampshire County also has a school comfort dog program.)

Technically, Mack will be owned by the Montague Police Department, and he will be Miner’s responsibility, he explained to the School Committee: he stays with Miner during the day at work, sleeps at Miner’s house and can’t be left alone with students without Miner’s supervision. Mack’s insurance will be covered at no extra cost by the policy the Montague Police already has in place for its patrol dog. He will also be subject to a yearly behavior review by the Montague police chief.

Although Mack is being donated, there will still be costs associated with owning a dog, like buying dog food. Miner said he expects to cover these through fundraisers and donations.

“That’s the way canine programs have always worked,” Miner said. “It’s a privilege, not a right.”

Mack is scheduled to arrive March 16. Miner said he will be formally introduced at the Montague Selectboard’s meeting that night.


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