North Royalton Police Department School Resource Officer (SRO), Alexandra Jezior recently addressed City Council, formally requesting to start a K9 Therapy Program through the North Royalton Police Department to be used in North Royalton Schools.
The presentation took place at the February 21 Council Safety Committee meeting. Jezior said the program would be utilized primarily at the North Royalton City Schools, St. Albert the Great School and Royal Redeemer School. It could also be used to aid the victims of crime and for community engagement. It would be an addition to the Police Department’s current K-9 program, which was reinstated in the spring of 2019. “Unlike the typical Police K9, this dog would serve a therapeutic purpose,” said Jezior. “Therapy dogs, also known as comfort dogs, act to support a person’s mental health and emotional well-being. According to various sources and studies, therapy dogs can improve mental health in those who suffer with a variety of mental health and behavioral issues, such as depression, anxiety, autism, ADHD, and PTSD.”
Jezior stated that she has encountered numerous children in her role as SRO who are suffering from significant mental health issues. “There are children in the schools who have been victims of crime (domestic abuse, sexual assault, neglect, etc.) and are thus struggling mentally, emotionally, physically, and academically. Many students have been diagnosed with depression and/or anxiety. Some are emotionally disturbed or have other diagnoses,” she said. Jezior said she asserts that the implementation of this program may bring about some improvement to the overall mental health of students, such as those having panic attacks and emotional outbursts, potentially reducing the times that students become hostile with staff, causing them to be restrained. “ By reducing those instances, we would be increasing overall student and staff safety,” said Jezior. “Also, there have been numerous occasions where students have been in such an emotional state to where they could not return to class. The hope is that the K9 could provide more comfort and support that will allow the student to calm down faster, respond more quickly, and be able to resume the school day in a significantly better emotional state.”
Historically, therapy dogs have been used by the medical community for therapeutic patients. Recently, however, the practice has been expanded into school districts. Brunswick and Brecksville-Broadview Heights School Districts have been utilizing such a program.
The funding of this program would be less than the traditional K-9 program, said Jezior, due to the fact that it requires significantly less equipment and costs. She said that there would be no cost for the dog, as the Franklin County Animal Shelter will provide the dog, a rescue, at no cost. After the dog is selected, it would then reside with Jezior and accompany her wherever she goes. Training would be provided by the Franklin County Sheriff’s Office at no charge during normal duty hours. The therapy dog would be insured through the same insurance that Bear is covered, for liability purposes. The cost of maintenance, food and health care would be donated, as is done for Bear. “There are some additional items that will be needed for the care of the K9, including a crate for my residence, a harness, leashes, treats, etc. However, the greatest cost will be compensation for being a K9 handler as required by the Fair Labor Standards Act.”
When asked about the costs associated with the North Royalton Police Department K-9 Bear, North Royalton Police Chief Keith Tarase stated that “as far as Bear’s actual costs, it’s been very minimal – almost nothing. For the most part, everything has been donated for Bear: his food and normal vet services. . .The only thing we are paying is the compensation to the handler. They are required by fair labor standards, to get a half hour of overtime every day for the care of the dog.” He indicated that the compensation comes in the form of time off. If instituted, Tarase said that the K-9 Therapy Program would be similar, except that the compensation would not be paid in the form of time off. He indicated that he did not have actual cost projections at this time.
The Council consensus was positive for the program. Council President Paul Marnecheck said, “Officer Jezior came with a very well-reasoned, well-developed proposal. I think this is a good thing. I think she has the right temperament for this.” Mayor Larry Antoskiewicz stated, “I guess anything we can do to continue to help in today’s world is a positive. I know that we are seeing more and more of these types of approaches to try to help our children. So, overall, I think it’s been tried in other places and seems to be successful. At this time, I’m not sure what the out-of-pocket costs will be.” North Royalton Law Director Tom Kelly stated that he will be contacting Laub for further discussions regarding the City and Schools’ coverage of the program. Both Council and the School Board would ultimately have to approve it.
By GLORIA PLEVA KACIK