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Meet the Okemos Woof Pack: Willow and Cece

Okemos' Woof Pack
Posted at 9:51 AM, Sep 26, 2022

EAST LANSING, Mich. — Among the students at Okemos High School, is a five year-old and four-month-old.

“She takes quite a few naps during the day because she is so little still,” said science teacher Molly Turner.

But these students aren't children, they're support dogs.

“You’ll be like stressed from the amount of homework you get, and then, there’s just like this happy dog that just loves to be pet by everybody who walks past them,” said sophomore Xander Wright.

Cece is going on her second year in the high school with her owner Melissa Samluk, who's a French teacher at the school.

“CeCe loves to be around people, and she loves to just let people put her she's extremely calm, she'll let you come to her," Samluk said. "She's really happy to be here.”

Willow started with her owner Turner just a month ago becoming the newest member of the Woof Pack.

“She came from a program called Canines for Change," Turner said. "So we're working through that right now.”

The idea of bringing in support dogs all started with an idea from Samluk.

“My husband and I have had dogs for since we got married 20 years ago, and we've always been involved in dog training," Samluk said. "It was our vet who saw her temperament and said she's born to be a therapy dog, you really need to turn her into a therapy dog.”

After talking with the Okemos School Board and counselors, they not only green-lighted the program with Cece, but they decided to add Willow to the team a year later.

“When you take a pet and you put it in an environment where you don't normally see pets, it really makes kids day. They're so happy to see a dog and to meet the dog and ask about what it likes to do and its name and its age and all kinds of things like that,” Samluk said.

“She loves people, she wants to be petted by everybody who will walk by her and give her attention and she is very, very smart," Turner said. "Unfortunately, sometimes so smart that I think she's training me a little bit, but she's learning very quickly, and it's awesome to see her grow and adapt over this time.”

Willow is still getting used to her every day routine.

"She stays relatively close to my room, most of the time," Turner said. "We do come down on my planning period and kind of meet kids outside of main office so that they can pet her and some other kids that maybe don't see her during the day get a chance to do that.”

With Cece's paws to follow and guide her.

"When the kids are taking a test, she will make her way around the room, and she will stop at certain desks, and she does seem to sense who needs her at that moment,” Samluk said.

Some students have the dogs in class.

“She’ll just walk around, and then, we can just pet her and take a second to not have to focus on the work, and it’s just a calming thing to have around," said senior Isaiah Tandoc.

Others just pass them in the hallway.

“You go down the halfway and Cece’s just there, laying on the ground, carefree, and just waiting to be pet," Wright said. "It’s just an amazing experience.”

While some even go out of their way to visit them in a classroom.

“I just kind of started showing up in Madame’s room and hanging out with Cece before before lunch because it’s just very comforting especially if I’m stressed or having a bad day, but also it’s really fun and they’re adorable,” said sophomore Isabella Thompson-Orsua.

They are bringing together new groups of students who otherwise don't see each other much.

“Kids that I've never seen before that come from all different groups will come in, they will sit down and they'll put her on their way into school that will put her on their way out,” Samluk said.

While the smiles on kids faces when they interact with the dogs is priceless.

“Cece and I were just walking down the hallway on my conference hour, and there was a student the hallway crying, and she was able to spend some time with Cece," Samluk said. "Then I talked with her for a couple of minutes, and then she felt comfortable to go to class.”

It looks like Cece and Willow are enjoying themselves too.

Soon there will be three therapy dogs in the Woof Pack. Chip, also from Canine's for Change, will be the newest member starting at Chippewa Middle School in the coming weeks.

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