Matt Drowne is the special education and student service director for Blackwater Community Schools on the Gila River Indian Community.His wife, Jamaica Drowne, is a special education teacher at Mountain Pointe High School in the Tempe Union High School District. Over the past few months, Matt and Jamaica have begun incorporating a facility dog into their work with students. The dog was provided free of charge by Canine Companions for Independence. Canine Companions is a non-profit organization that enhances the lives of people with disabilities by providing highly trained assistance dogs and ongoing support to ensure quality partnerships.
Facility Dog Fable IV is a yellow Labrador/Golden Retriever cross that is loving, playful and patient. “I could not have scripted a better personality type to connect with our students,” says Matt. “She’s calm and peaceful in her demeanor, but she is also 100% puppy when she plays! She has plenty of energy and spunk but she’s a hard worker, too.”
All of Fable’s energy certainly comes in handy! Matt’s students range in age from three to 11. Jamaica’s students are older and have a wide range of disabilities. Fable alternates her workdays between the schools, providing motivation, comfort and just plain fun to students.
At Blackwater Community Schools, Fable’s wagging tail inspires big smiles in students. “She gives her signature ‘good morning hugs’ during recess,” explains Matt. “Fable is sweet, eager to please and always happy. Students see her as a friend who is always willing to listen.”
Matt uses Fable as an incentive for students to make positive choices and work hard. When they do, they earn lunch passes to play with Fable, read to her or groom her. “Learning the responsibilities of caring for a pet has provided valuable life lessons for students,” says Matt. On top of that, many students had never interacted with an assistance dog before Fable. “Fable helps students understand the importance of treating others with respect,” Matt explains. Fable is the first assistance dog that Canine Companions has placed to work on a reservation.
Fable also works with special needs students on their individual goals. Students think it’s just plain fun to give the highly-trained dog commands, but in the process they are working on pronunciation and sequencing. A game of fetch provides the opportunity to work on coordination and motor skills. Grooming Fable develops fine motor skills. Just about any activity is more fun and rewarding when Fable is involved!
Jamaica’s students are equally enamored of Fable. “Fable’s companionship has been such a beautiful addition to my students’ lives,” she explains. Jamaica teaches life skills like cooking. “Fable assists students with limited mobility in the kitchen,” Jamaica says. Fable is trained to retrieve dropped items, tug open the refrigerator and close drawers. “Then, when students are out of their wheelchairs, Fable loves to cuddle up with them,” she says. It is a great reward for student and dog alike!
Apply, volunteer or donate online at www.cci.org.