Wednesday, March 6, 2019 was Thomas’ last day as a student at Collinsville High School.
Thomas, a service-dog-in-training, has learned to be a PTSD support dog for Got Your Six Support Dogs as he accompanied CHS teacher Rachael Wright to work. Wright is a volunteer trainer for Got Your Six. Part of Thomas’ training is to be exposed to different situations and different kinds of people.
As part of the training protocol, the dogs spend a month at a time rotating among a group of volunteer trainers. Thomas, a one-year-old Labrador Retriever, was with Mrs. Wright a few months ago and just completed another 30-day period. During that time, he came to work with her and stayed by her side in the classroom each day.
Wright says his quiet presence in the classroom was good for the students and offered them an up-close look at the work of service dogs and how they prepare for their life’s work. The hardest part was understanding that Thomas was “working” while at school, so the students (and faculty) had to refrain from petting and socially interacting with him — until given permission.
Thomas will graduate from his training this summer and be placed with a veteran or First Responder who suffers from Post Traumatic Stress Disorder and can benefit from his skills. Got Your Six Support Dogs are trained to recognize signs of anxiety and immediately alert their human to take calming measures. The dogs also assist with simple tasks when needed.
Mrs. Wright first worked as a trainer for service dogs when she was a student at University of Illinois thru the Illini Service Dogs project. She knew once she was settled in her life and career she would return to the rewarding volunteer work that helps prepare service dogs for those in need.
The downside of with having a special dog like Thomas at your side 24/7 during training is the close bond that develops between human and canine. For the dogs, the issue is addressed by rotating trainers during those months of learning. For the trainer, according to Wright, the relationship has to be put in perspective.
“I’m a teacher,” she says, “I look at my service dogs in the same way I look at my students. You are in their lives to prepare them for what’s next. You have to let go so they can move on to accomplish their life’s purpose.”
As Thomas moves on to complete his training, Mrs. Wright begins work with Rocket, and 8-month-old female Black Lab. Rocket will be walking the halls at CHS as she works toward her goal of becoming a PTSD support dog. The students and staff at the high school will contribute to her education while learning an important lesson about support dogs and the role they play in assisting their human companions.
To help support the work of Thomas and other Got Your Six Support Dogs, check out their website or follow them on social media (@gotyoursixptsdsupportdogs) to learn about ways to provide financial support — like their annual Trivia Night on Saturday, March 23, 2019 from 6-11 pm at the Madison County Firemen’s Hall. To register, contact Jim at 314-315-6333. Deadline to register is 3/9/19.