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  • Writer's pictureMelissa Davison

Community Impact Grant Spotlight: Paws for a Purpose

Paws for a Purpose is a project by Madison City Schools to enable all MCS schools to host a facility dog to support students. All facility dogs are professionally trained through Service Dogs of Alabama and are all considered working animals.

Madison Elementary served as a pilot for the program at MCS. Their dog, Barnie, has been part of the school since May 2022. Stefanie Cook is the counselor at Madison Elementary and also serves as Barnie's full time handler.

"Barnie Fife is a 4 year old Black Lab from Service Dogs of Alabama in Hope Hull. He has been through extensive training since he was a puppy. Barnie was part of a program that utilizes the prison system in Florida. He was trained in a one-on-one setting by prisoners who are a part of the Service Dog program. This program helps the prisoner rehabilitate and find a way to become part of society. Dog and prisoner both gain purpose," said Cook.

Barnie has made a tremendous impact since his arrival at school. "Barnie provides comfort to children and helps make Madison Elementary a welcoming place. He visits classrooms all day, works carlines in the morning, and helps apprehensive students find their place in MES. Barnie has proven time and time again that he can console a child quicker than anyone else. Teachers and staff all agree that Barnie makes MES a happier place to be," Cook commented.

Facility dogs like Barnie are designated to one facility as their home base, but are able to visit other schools periodically to assist with crises or provide additional support. Barnie has visited Bob Jones for a special crisis intervention and has also visited several other MCS schools.

Both Heritage Elementary and Mill Creek Elementary have received district approval to add a service dog to their locations. The applications to Service Dogs of Alabama were completed and submitted in August and September 2022. Because of the unique training the animals receive, it can take between 12-24 months to receive a facility dog.

Once a school is notified of a match, the cost for the facility dog is $1,000. In addition to the upfront cost, the handler (who is required to be a school employee) is responsible for the cost and care of the animal.

The Community Impact Grant awarded to MCS by Madison Visionary Partners will help fund the upfront costs of two new facility dogs, as well as assist in Barnie's continued needs.

You can follow Barnie on Instagram @barniesbigadventures.

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