Years ago, Edie Ronhovde had a student who didn’t really want to acknowledge that he had diabetes.
But somehow Ronhovde’s therapy dog Macy seemed to know when the student’s blood sugar level wasn’t quite right, even though she wasn’t formally trained to detect this situation.
“Macy would sit by him in the classroom and if she didn’t move, I knew his numbers were off. I’d have someone escort him to the office – and sure enough his numbers were off,” she said.
At the end of the year, the student had a message for Macy.
“You’re the biggest tattle tale in the world, but I love you,” the student said.
The situation was just one example of how a certified therapy dog can help classroom students.
In May, Ronhovde retired after teaching for 25 years in the Fremont Public Schools system. But she and her husband, Mike, take their therapy dogs to see Nye Legacy residents. Mike takes his dog, Zoey, to Fremont High School, where he teaches math.
Edie Ronhovde also has served as a puppy trainer for a dog, which will be trained to help someone with epilepsy.
And this month, she’s planning to teach a K-9 Good Citizen Class, which already is full.
Ronhovde’s trek into therapy and service dog training began in 2016, when her friend, Anne Echtinaw, who teaches special education at Fremont Middle School, was bringing her golden doodle, Winston, to class. Echtinaw told Ronhovde about Domesti-PUPS and said she’d gotten Winston certified.
Domesti-PUPS is a nonprofit organization, based in Lincoln, which provides therapy dogs, service dogs for persons with disabilities, and trained rescue dogs.
Ronhovde, who then taught math at Fremont Middle School, knows the subject can be stressful for students. She started reading articles and learning that dogs can be a good de-stressor in the classroom.
When Echtinaw, a trainer, offered to teach a K-9 Good Citizen Class for basic obedience, Ronhovde took the course with her mini-golden doodle, Macy.
Ronhovde compares this first class to getting a learner’s permit and the second class – which involves more extensive obedience training – to getting a driver’s license.
If dogs and their owners pass the second class’ testing, they go through a probation period and must make 10 visits without any incidents. The dogs must be well-behaved and respond to the people they’re going to visit. After that, they can graduate.
The Ronhovdes are in Edu-PUPS, a Domesti-PUPS program expanded for educators, who can use the dogs to help students in various ways. The Domesti-PUPS website states that the dogs can bring a renewed excitement to the learning process and help students develop self-esteem and responsibility.
In her math classroom at Fremont Middle School, students who were getting stressed about an assignment or during a test knew that if they dropped their hand, Macy would come over and they could pet her – and that would help.
Students in Ronhovde’s class weren’t the only ones to benefit from Macy’s presence.
“We had lots of teachers visit during their planning time,” she said.
If a student was having a meltdown or someone in the office was having a rough day – and Ronhovde had time during lunch or a planning period – she’d bring Macy to help.
As part of their certification, the Ronhovdes also must make an outside visit once a month during the school year and twice a month in the summer.
So they take Macy and Zoey to visit the folks at Nye Legacy, which offers short-stay rehabilitation and traditional 24-hour skilled care.
“We visit everybody and even if they’re not a dog person, we stand at the door and say, ‘Hi,’” Ronhovde said.
The Ronhovdes meet people who are sad, because they had to leave their pets with family. Or residents show photos of pets that have been gone for years, but say how happy those pets made them.
“I feel so good when I leave Nye Legacy, because I feel like we made a difference and the dogs love it,” Ronhovde said. “The minute we pull in the parking lot, they are so excited to go inside.”
In the summer of 2018, Ronhovde planned to help Echtinaw teach a class. After Echtinaw had an injury, Ronhovde ended up teaching the class.
That also was the year Ronhovde asked about puppy raisers – foster families who work on basic training and socialization with the animals before they are trained as service dogs.
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And that year she got Cricket – a 6-month-old golden doodle – in December.
Cricket had undergone basic house-breaking training at the Nebraska Correctional Center for Women in York and was now ready for the Ronhovdes, who’d become her foster family. Their job was to provide socialization and basic training.
The Ronhovdes had taught their therapy dogs to stay in another room while they ate at the table.
But Cricket had to learn how to sit under a table while a person was eating – because as a service dog, she’d have to be with her person when that individual went out to eat.
Ronhovde took Cricket to Nye Legacy to greet people there.
“They were thrilled to hear her story and how she is learning how to be a service dog,” Ronhovde said.
After seven months of training, Cricket was ready to go to the Nebraska State Penitentiary in Lincoln.
There, Cricket is going through more extensive training to become a service dog for someone with epilepsy.
Ronhovde said the dogs are trained to tell if their owner is going to have an epileptic seizure and get that person to a safe place.
They can help get the person rolled over to his or her side during a seizure and make sure others know the person needs help.
Ronhovde had to keep thinking of how Cricket would help someone as the local woman and her family took the dog to the penitentiary.
She thought she was warding off tears, until someone handed her Cricket’s dog tag.
“I started crying and quickly walked to the car and I didn’t look back,” she said, later adding, “Our dogs walked around looking for her after she didn’t come back.”
She keeps Cricket’s tag on her key chain.
Next June, the Ronhovdes plan to attend Cricket’s graduation when she’s 16 months old.
Now, Ronhovde looks forward to her latest endeavor. She plans to teach a K-9 Good Citizen Class starting Tuesday in the gym at the Masonic-Eastern Star Home for Children in Fremont.
The class is full.
The teams include people from all walks of life. Some want to take their animals to visit family members in nursing homes. Others want to take their dogs to their work site. Some are teachers hoping to take their dogs to school.
Some are people who just want their dogs to behave.
In the spring, the teams can take the second part of the dog therapy class and if they pass, their dogs become certified.
Ronhovde has one pet peeve when it comes to people who put a vest on a dog that’s not trained.
She can tell if a dog is certified by the way it behaves.
“We don’t like fake service or therapy dogs, because it leaves a bad name for those of us who do what you’re supposed to do to get your dog certified,” she said.
Ronhovde plans to start substitute teaching and hopes to take Macy back to school.
She hopes to train more people to have well-behaved dogs, which they can take to nursing homes, hospitals and schools.
She notes something else:
“There’s a lot of stress in the world right now and if these dogs can relieve some of that – that’s a good plan.”