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Archive for Thursday, January 7, 1999

FROM FIRST GRADE

January 7, 1999

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Schwegler School's canine friend is leaving school Friday for a different kind of education.

While Schwegler first-grade teacher Lisa Clark talked to her students about fun ways to rhyme words, one of her star pupils was sleeping.

No one seemed to notice.

"He had to learn to be quiet in his cage before I could bring him here," Clark said, looking at Tamron, the yellow Lab that weighs more than any of his human classmates.

Clark has been bringing Tamron to school with her for the past 15 months, but it's all about to end.

Clark trains dogs and has been teaching Tamron commands since October 1997 when he came to her as an 8-week-old puppy. Now, he understands 53 commands and has learned everything that Clark can teach him.

This marks his last week in the classroom before he leaves and begins more dog training. In another six to 12 months he could find himself working as a guide dog for someone who is blind, a service dog for someone with special needs or a drug-sniffing dog for law enforcement agencies. If all else fails, Tamron will become a family pet, just like any other dog.

"We've been talking about it all week," Clark said. "I tell my students that for me it's like when they leave first grade. I'm happy because they have grown, but I'm sad because they're leaving. They know he'll go on to help someone else."

Tamron has spent a lot of time in the classroom, but he isn't allowed to roam. He sleeps in a cage and goes to recess when the students do.

"It's for socialization," Clark said. "He has to get out and see all the noises, and all the things that are normal to us need to be normal for him."

Tamron is the sixth service dog that Clark has helped train. She got him through the Kansas Specialty Dog Service (KSDS) in Washington, Kan.

The organization trains and places dogs with individuals with disabilities. Dogs that successfully complete training are valued at more than $10,000 and are provided to the people who need them at no cost.

Once Tamron leaves Lawrence he will go through a series of physical tests to make sure he's healthy enough to continue training, said Bill Acree, KSDS executive director and president.

"Then, he'll be evaluated by trainers as to what area of assistance he will go to," Acree said.

KSDS has placed more than 220 working dogs in 27 states since it started in 1990. If Tamron meets the qualifications, he will be one of 50 dogs placed this year.

Once he is placed with a new owner, Acree and Clark can continue to chart his progress. Owners check in with KSDS once a month.

The separation between trainers and their dogs is sometimes difficult, but everyone who does it understands the important jobs the dogs have to do, Acree said.

"It's knowing that you're doing something that people have a want and need for," he said. "You're helping make someone's life better."

That philosophy has helped Clark's students deal with losing their canine classmate.

"It's been fun because sometimes when we sit in a circle on the carpet he yawns and everybody laughs," first-grader Ali Zaidi said. "I'm a little sad he's leaving, but happy because he's going to learn more."

Olivia Johnson agreed.

"I'm sad and glad," she said. "He gets to go to a new school and I think that will be fun for him."

Friday is Tamron's last day in the classroom before heading to his future KSDS training.

-- JL Watson's phone message number is 832-7145. Her e-mail address is jwatson@ljworld.com.

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