Canine on Campus

Canine on Campus

By Eliza Sullivan

Wake up in the morning, drive to school. Go from class to class all day, go home and sleep, then wake up and do it all again. Sound familiar? It could be the life of a student, but it’s also the life of Talawanda’s furry faculty member: Kondo, the school’s facility dog. 

Kondo lives with Ms. Oberlitner, a special education teacher for Talawanda. In the morning, he wakes up and comes to THS. On a regular day, he’ll switch between Ms. George, Ms. Bodecker, and Ms. Wilds’ rooms, providing support to the kids. 

Getting Kondo to Talawanda was quite a process, according to Ms. Oberlitner. She saw the Lakota School District’s facility dogs and thought Talawanda students could benefit from such a service. She contacted the organization Circletail, which has placed 30 facility dogs in schools within the Greater Cincinnati region. Their mission is to “empower, educate, and inspire individuals and communities through professional training and partnership of highly-skilled service oriented dogs.”

Once Circletail approved Ms. Oberlitner’s request, she went through months of handler training, a home visit, and other vetting processes to ensure that she would be a good host family for a dog. Kondo cost $3,000 dollars to adopt, but Ms. Oberlitner was able to get a grant from the Oxford Community Foundation to cover the full price. Once everything was approved and Kondo was paid for, she got to take him home! She is considered the primary handler and host family, so he lives with her at night and comes with her to school during the day. 

Kondo is a pretty talented dog. He’s classified as a facility dog, which takes lots of special training. He’s been training for this job since he was a puppy. He’s spent time with many different foster families, and even spent time practicing for his job by providing support to inmates in a jail. He also knows a lot of cool commands, such as push, when he uses his nose to push doors close, open, where he pulls open a door, lap, where he rests his forearms on a person’s lap, and visit, where he will lay his chin in a person’s lap. In addition to all of these tricks, he’s in the process of getting certified for service by Assistance Dogs International. 

Kondo’s skills are very useful. He helps provide a morale boost to kids and encourages them to do their work. According to Ms. Oberlitner, one of the best parts of working with Kondo is seeing kids’ faces light up when they see him. How can you be sad with a dog around? She also said that Kondo is still getting used to the school, and the school is still getting used to him, which is why he rotates between only a few classrooms. However, he also goes to the nurse’s, counselor’s and principal’s offices to help kids when they need it. He’s very good at deescalating situations where people are feeling angry or upset. If a student feels that they need Kondo’s support, they can ask a staff member to contact Ms. Oberlitner and she can set up a time for him to visit. 

After lots of hard work, Kondo rests during fifth period. His kennel is in Mr. York’s office, and they have a strong bond; Kondo knows Mr. York as “Grandpa”. When moving from room to room, Kondo knows his way around the school. He knows which hallway is which and where to go when he needs to. Students love seeing him in the halls and often pet him when they see him. The best way to approach Kondo in the hallways is to ask the handler to pet him. When they say yes, they’ll tell him to “go say hi,” and then he can interact with you. 

When he’s not working, some of Kondo’s favorite things include eating food, smelling things on walks, and chewing on toys. He also loves to play fetch. After a long day of work, he goes home with Ms. Oberlitner. 

Overall, according to Ms. Oberlitner, Kondo has had a huge impact on the Talawanda student body. He helps students make it through the day and provides morale boosts for the whole Talawanda population. Kondo is always here to provide unconditional love and support for anyone, Oberlitner says.