Westfield High School welcomes first facility dog

Westfield High School welcomed the district's first facility dog at the start of the school year and say 2-year-old Pierson is already having a positive impact on students. (WISH Photo)

WESTFIELD, Ind. (WISH) — Westfield High School welcomed the district’s first facility dog at the start of the school year, and educators say 2-year-old Pierson is already having a positive impact on students.

He’s a black Labrador retriever from ICAN, the Indiana Canine Assistant Network. Pierson works inside Westfield High School by day, staying with one of the school’s teachers each night.

“Pierson is our facility dog that is basically getting a lot of my kids to do things that they never could do before or even help calm them down,” said Kim Lockhart-Massaro, an instructor at Westfield High School over the Life Skills class.

The Life Skills special needs students arguably spend the most time with him, as he takes regular trips around the room, providing comfort and needed assistance as necessary.

“Pierson is cute, he’s adorable,” said Audrey Kriech, 19, a student in Life Skills. “I like it when he climbs up on me and I like it when he kisses me and I just love everything about him.”

He’s trained to complete 50 different tasks around the classroom, including opening and closing doors for wheelchair-bound students, getting medicine out of the refrigerator and picking up dropped items from the floor. Before his training to become a facility dog, Pierson was a diabetic alert dog and maintains those skills.

“I have a student in here who has diabetes and (Pierson) has nudged him three times and we’ve checked his sugars and his numbers have been high,” Lockhart-Massaro said.

Teachers said Pierson also has a powerful effect on students.

“One young man was throwing a fit getting off the bus, and when we told him he could come and see Pierson he stopped the fit, came down and just sat in the corner with Pierson for a half hour, and just really calmed down,” Lockhart-Massaro said.

Pierson doesn’t just help in the Life Skills class. After a Westfield High School student committed suicide earlier this year, Pierson helped dozens of students.

“He was a big comfort to students,” said Becky Sondgeroth, a teacher at WHS and the home-parent for Pierson. “We took him in the learning center and he got to spend time with kids and he really got to help them express emotions they typically don’t express.”

Pierson’s price tag was $1,600, all raised by students and community members.

“It has been such a long time coming because I’ve been involved with ICAN for all 15 years,” Sondgeroth said. “I’ve been trying so hard to get someone and to finally get him here and see what he does day in and day out is amazing.”

“He makes me happy,” Kreich said. “He makes me smile. He loves me.”

ICAN representatives told 24-Hour News 8 that 24 facility dogs have been placed in Indiana in ICAN’s 15 years, with 10 currently working. Executive Director Jillian Ashton added that, in December, Childs Elementary School in Bloomington will receive a facility dog as well.