There is nothing quite like a dog. Our longest animal companions, dogs force us to take walks outside and to see the joy in everyday situations. One look at a therapy dog and you know that dogs can do so much more to protect and improve our lives.
This is something the students of Valparaiso Community Schools (VCS) know well. Like most good things, the Viking Pups program began with good people doing good things.
Starting with two therapy dogs, Vale Park Animal Hospital sponsored and provided medical treatment and supplies to these amazing animals.
“I have children in the school system,” said Dr. Bill Donohue, associate veterinarian at Vale Park Animal Hospital. “Dr. Erin Hawkins was a patient of mine, and she was the principal at the school of my oldest daughter. Dr. Hawkins would bring June in–who was the Flint Lake Elementary school support dog. I asked the team if I could sponsor June’s medical care as a kind of outreach.”
“The Viking Puppy Project began through a collaboration between VCS and Vale Park Animal Hospital,” Director of Social Emotional Learning Dr. Erin Hawkins said. “The veterinary clinic was already sponsoring one of two therapy dogs in our district, and the positive impact was evident.”
In 2019, VCS added 10 golden retriever puppies to its program with the help of school leaders and Vale Park Animal Hospital’s Dr. Donohue.
“The assistant superintendent was in the office, and we're having a conversation about the therapy dogs,” Dr. Donohue said. “The assistant superintendent mentioned that she’d like to have a dog in every school if she could because she knew the difference they made. I had a client that had just had a litter of 10 golden retriever puppies looking for homes.”
After learning about this litter of puppies, the staff at VCS worked quickly to make this project happen.
“Within a short time, handlers and sponsors were secured, and the initiative came to fruition, thanks to our generous Valparaiso community,” Dr. Hawkins said.
Building on the connection between Vale Park Animal Hospital and VCS, the Viking Puppy Project continued to expand and support students throughout the district.
“Today, the Viking Puppy Project includes nine certified therapy dogs and two dogs in training,” Dr. Hawkins said. “Each dog has one handler, and that individual is also the dog’s owner.”
Vale Park Animal Hospital continues to support the Viking Puppy Project with care and supplies.
“We supply their yearly vaccines and their preventative flea and tick, heartworm medication,” said Dr. Donohue. “Additionally, we provide discounted medical care to the dogs if they have other underlying issues.”
Vale Park Animal Hospital has worked with animal care corporations to sponsor the dogs' care. Currently, Zoetis sponsors its vaccinations, and Boehringer Ingelheim provides the dogs with their prevention medication. Each dog is also provided with food through Hill’s Pet Nutrition’s buy one get one program.
The power of this district-wide initiative and the support of Vale Park Animal Hospital can be felt throughout the community.
“Having trained dogs in the schools has provided an opportunity to start conversations, connect with one another, and build those very relationships that are so important to the work we do,” Dr. Hawkins said. “Put simply, when you have your therapy dog with you, it’s easy to strike up a conversation, get to know someone, and start working together.”
“At Vale Park, we're happy to be able to provide medical care and have helped start the Viking pups,” said Dr. Donohue. “It's something that allows us to give back to the community that helps us so much.”
Luckily for the students of Valparaiso, the Viking Pup Program is around to stay.
“Sustaining the program for our students and staff is the current long-term goal,” Dr. Hawkins said. “We understand the benefits of the program, and we would love to keep that going in some form for years to come.”
For more information on Vale Park Animal Hospital, visit valeparkah.com.