Puppies take over Valparaiso Schools with the new Viking Pup Program
New to the numerous Valparaiso community schools this year were 11 pups. With tails wagging, the puppies, nine of which were all from the same litter, set out to be emotional support for Valparaiso students.
The Viking Pup program came about partly by chance. When Dr. Julie Lauck, Valparaiso Community Schools Superintendent, took her dog into Vale Park Animal Hospital, Dr. Bill Donohue took the opportunity to question her about whether or not his children’s school would be getting a new therapy dog, as the current administrator and her dog were headed to a new position at the high school. The conversation then went a little something like this:
Lauck: “I would have a dog in every single school if I could.”
Dr. Bill: “You know we would support any dog the school brought on.”
A casual mention from Dr. Bill that he had a patient whose English Cream Golden Retriever was expecting around 10 puppies spurred Lauck into action.
“I went to the leadership team and asked who would be interested in being a handler and have one of the dogs at their school and several of the administrators volunteered,” Lauck said. “I then reached out to several of our wonderful citizens, board members, the school attorney, and several other people to see if they would be interested in sponsoring a pup. Within four hours, I had $12,000 raised for the puppies.”
The rest, as they say, is history, a subject the puppies would not be studying when they started school in fall.
From the original litter of 10, nine of the pups went to their handlers, made up mostly of principals, assistant principals, or school counselors. A Labradoodle puppy and another English Cream Golden Retriever puppy from a different litter were also recruited.
The pups took Puppy Training 101, which they all passed with flying colors and next enrolled in Stoney Run Canine Camp where they are training to be certified therapy dogs. They hope to graduate in May, but as you know, some pups may take a little longer.
In addition to June, the original therapy dog and Moose, a 2-year-old Labrador owned by one of the administrators who saw the benefits and volunteered for training and service, each school would be able to have at least one pup, much to the students’ delight.
The benefits the dogs bring to students and staff are exponential. Whether the dog is providing comfort to a student, walking the halls with their handler, or waiting in the office to spend time with a student whose good behavior earned them a special puppy cuddle session, the canines are working hard to ensure students’ needs are met.
“The dogs are here to help with any situation that may arise at the school. The dogs are there to help with behavioral issues, anxiety, or other related issues,” said Allison Hadley, Communications Coordinator at Valparaiso Schools.
“We’re seeing so many kids come to us with trauma in their lives and the dogs are a way for them to have that connection with an animal that doesn’t judge, doesn’t ask them questions, or demand anything from them. They do nothing but love them,” Lauck said.
The Viking Pups are also a great way to build stronger relationships between staff, administration, and students.
“We emphasize relationship building here in Valpo and the dogs have been a new layer to that. Even if a student doesn’t know the adult who is handling the dog, when they see them (the dog) they’ll say, ‘Oh, you’re Eva’s handler’ and you’ll start talking about the dog and before you know it, they’re remembering you later as you pass in the hall. You have a new relationship that you’ve formed and it’s a new way we’ve been able to connect staff and students,” Hadley said.
The Viking Pups have been in school for a semester now and have rightfully earned their place as a permanent part of each school family with a bright future ahead of them.
“We hope that the dogs will continue to provide therapy, comfort, and companionship to students and staff and that they will continue to grow into being a part of the school family. We also hope that we will be able to sustain this program through generous donations from our community,” Lauck said.
Lauck has ensured the Viking Pup program uses zero tax dollars. Through corporate or individual sponsorships, donations, and continued fundraising, the money needed for expenses such as training costs and necessities are covered. Currently, donations can be made through the Valparaiso Community School’s main office. If you hurry, you may be able to snag a Viking Pup calendar as well.
Of course, the program couldn’t exist without the generosity of Vale Park Animal Hospital who has agreed to sponsor and care for each dog throughout their life and career.
“This is a 12 to 15-year commitment to the community where we can give back and help the kids with the emotional support dogs. It’s an amazing opportunity,” Dr. Bill said. “It’s the right thing to do to give back to the community. We want to take care of the community that has taken care of us.”
Through fundraisers and donations, and some corporate gifts, Vale Park Animal Hospital is able to defer some of the costs of medicine and other materials but they are continually fundraising to help with future care costs. One of their biggest sponsors for fundraising efforts is the local business Mermaid Straw.
For Lisa and Adam Harrington, Co-Founders and Owners at Mermaid Straw, the chance to give back to the school community was a no-brainer.
“Having this program to help students is so innovative and is a huge success. I’m a firm believer in the therapeutic benefits of all sorts of animals, and dogs especially,” Adam said. “Any way that we can give back to the community, especially the school system, is something that we’re passionate about doing.”
For all involved, the Viking Pup program is not just adorable, it is also a way to care for students in the community. And for that, Lauck, the administration, staff, and students are extremely thankful.
“We live in such a generous community in Valparaiso and we want to say a huge “thank you” to our community for doing this for our kids,” Lauck said.
For more information about the Viking Pup program, visit their website at https://www.valpo.k12.in.us/apps/pages/puppyproject.
For more information on Vale Park Animal Hospital, and to find ways to donate to the puppy program, visit their website at https://valeparkah.com/.