Seminole County school comfort dogs trained for hugs, not finding drugs

Canines part of Brevard County Sheriff's Office Paws and Stripes program

By Bridgett Ellison - Anchor

SEMINOLE COUNTY, Fla. - There are some special dogs working full-time in Seminole County schools, and they're the only ones of their kind in the country.
 
Two comfort canines work alongside school resource officers from the Seminole County Sheriff's Office at Bear Lake Elementary and Greenwood Lakes Middle Schools. It's made possible through a partnership between Seminole County Schools and the Seminole and Brevard County Sheriff's Offices.

Tootsie Roll is a friendly, energetic Jack Russell Terrier mix working with Deputy Robert McKay, the school resource officer at Bear Lake.

Kids light up when they see Tootsie. Teachers and students say she and McKay bring out the best in students by making them feel more at ease and uplifting their spirits.
 
Tootsie is not a typical K-9 usually seen working with law enforcement officers. She's a former shelter dog selected through the Brevard County Sheriff's Office Paws and Stripes therapy dog training program.

She's never been trained to sniff out suspects or drugs, but has been groomed to comfort those who need hugs. As the program celebrates its first year, the comfort dogs are getting rave reviews from students and school staff.

"When we did our training, they said you'll see the difference, and sure enough, as soon as they interact with her, the change we see is phenomenal," McKay said.
 
"I think every school should have a dog like Tootsie because if someone's sad, or maybe not having a good day, they should have something to maybe make them have a good day," 9-year-old student Athena Prusaczyk said. 
 
The five-year plan in Seminole County includes installing 10 comfort dogs primarily in elementary schools. In the meantime, officials with the sheriff's offices and school district said they're getting inquiries from other areas about starting similar programs.

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