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coordinator. “He is a board-approved, full-time Alabaster City Schools’ employee. He comes to work every day,” she said. He certainly looks the part. In his thick black and white coat and sporting a red bandana, Warrior is dressed in the school colors as he heads off to work with his adopted “Mom” Wendy McNish, a long time teacher and counselor in the Shelby County Schools, who came on board when the system was formed last year. The idea to introduce a service dog as alternative programming for at risk students was actually her idea. “When I interviewed for the job, one of the questions asked was if I had ever worked with any alternate therapy programs. I had worked with Hand In Paw and I knew I would love to see us get involved with it,” McNish said. “It was one of my pie in the sky things, a ‘What if?’ You know, ‘If I had the perfect job, what would I have’ I never dreamed we would actually have this program in place.” Apparently it was an idea whose time had come for Alabaster students, because the two educators spent the entire summer looking into dog breeds whose temperaments would fit such a program, checking with breeders, brainstorming and trying to decide how they could make the Hand In Paw dog-assisted therapy program work for their school system. McNish thought she had encountered one obstacle early on that could cause a serious setback. “I had to own the dog,” she explained. “The school system pays for his care and upkeep, but I actually had to be the owner, which meant I had to buy the dog out of my own pocket. Once we settled on this breed, I found out they cost somewhere between $700 to $900 per dog. I said, ‘Well, I better start saving my money.’” It was a job she was prepared to do until an Australian Shepherd breeder from Gadsden heard about her plight. As McNish recalls, “She contacted me and said, she just had a litter born on Sept. 1. This lady had actually benefited from a dog therapy program when she had been in the hospital.

CLOCKWISE FROM TOP LEFT: Justin McKnight and Jaxon Bearden play with Warrior at Meadow View Elementary School. Warrior takes a nap after celebrating hump day at the ACS central office on Oct. 23, 2013. Warrior, an Australian shepherd, is being trained as a therapy dog.

May 2014 | 19

Shelby Living May 2014  
Shelby Living May 2014