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Raider the dog making a difference at Lake Roosevelt

 

Raider, the dog, chills out with first-graders, from left, Isabelle Hsieh, Haddie Marconi, Emmalee Rasmussen, Macy Paslay, Harper Wahpat and Aaron Andrews. The dog's mere presence often diffuses anxious moments in the school, educators say. - Jacob Wagner photo

A stray dog found its way into Lake Roosevelt Elementary School and has been a staple there ever since.

The 8-month-old, black Labrador female dog, now named Raider, had been hanging out around the school for about a month last fall when eventually school employee Cindy Parra found her by the football field eating a bag of chips out of a child's backpack. Parra grabbed her, and Shamara Steffler, the dean of students at the school, adopted her.

The school board in October approved for Raider to be at the school, and the students have loved her.

"The kids are happier," Steffler said. "She's really smart. She picks up on a lot of stuff. She's very well mannered."

One interesting effect Raider seems to have had on the students is on their behavior.

"Discipline issues have gone down substantially," Steffler said. "She just does all the de-escalation, all the cheering up. It's amazing; it flips that brain. They say that animals trigger the serotonin in the brain to release. For kids having a tantrum or meltdown or [who are] just really upset, they see her, and it just lets it all out. She's teaching them empathy."

Steffler said they hope that Raider will help ease the students' test anxiety for big tests if they are able to pet her and just have her around.

First-grade teacher Christi Portch agreed. She said the dog has been a form of therapy for the kids, and that when they pet the dog it calms them down.

The students see the dog in the hall and take her for walks outside. And sometimes Raider joins them for storytime.

"We have kids with more behavior needs that have mostly bonded with her," Steffler said. "It's been a really positive thing in the school. Her demeanor is just perfect."

Steffler takes Raider home each day, where she has another Lab named Renton. "They love each other, they wrestle," she said. "They've bonded. She's been good for him, as well."

Raider is a student herself, taking obedience and socialization lessons at Petco in Moses Lake.

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