Dogs have a way of impacting everyone they touch. Their companionship makes joys sweeter, pain duller and, mostly, they provide unconditional love when we need them the most. Many students who returned to campus after completing two school years in a pandemic are regaining a sense of normalcy, but there are children who are experiencing stress and social anxiety.
On Monday, May 16, the Garden Grove Unified School District and the Garden Grove Police Department announced the launch of a new program that will bring trained police support dogs to schools to provide an extra layer of social-emotional support for students. The program was announced to fourth- through sixth-graders at Mitchell Elementary School during a mental health assembly.
“We care about you. We care about your mental health and your mental well-being,” GGUSD Superintendent Dr. Gabriela Mafi said. “Mental health means asking for help when you’re dealing with something that’s too hard to handle on your own.”
While the program officially launched mid-May, GGUSD School Resource Officer Patrick Julienne and his adopted dog, Misha, and SRO Derek Link and his adopted dog, Nellie, have already started their rounds to see between 50 to 100 students every day. One of the students who showed an intense need for extra support was fifth-grader Ace Trinh. The Mitchell Elementary student’s twin brother, Vyncent, tragically passed away recently. His absence has been felt by students, staff and faculty on campus.
“It definitely makes a difference to the students when they get a chance to pet the dogs. You can see it in their demeanor. They let out a little sigh and relax a bit,” Principal Carrie Bostick said.
Misha, a white retriever, and Nellie, a black English Labrador, have gone through specialized training to be able to provide social-emotional support for students dealing with anxiety and heightened emotions or behavior.
“Our district has been consistently expanding mental health services for students and now thanks to the wonderful partnership with the Garden Grove Police Department and the dedication of our school resource officers, we have trained police support dogs who can provide comfort and care to students in need,” said Board of Education Trustee Walter Muneton.
The assembly was attended by GGUSD Board of Education Vice President Lan Nguyen, Trustee Teri Rocco, Trustee Walter Muneton, district leaders, city officials from Garden Grove and Santa Ana, and Garden Grove Police officers.
This new program aligns with the district’s Choose Wellness campaign. Launched in 2019, the mission engages stakeholders and shines a light on resources that support students’ motivation, socio-emotional well-being, school climate and culture.
To launch the GGPD Canine Support Program, the department connected with the John Reynolds Youth Support Canine Foundation, which honors the legacy of Garden Grove Police Lieutenant John Reynolds who passed away last year.
“COVID-19 introduced children to new emotional challenges and stressors, and bringing in support dogs is one more tool in our toolbox to help students maintain positive mental health,” said Garden Grove Police Chief Tom DaRé.
School Resource Officers Julienne and Link are among five officers who are assigned full-time to assist in GGUSD’s schools, which serves about 43,000 students in Garden Grove and parts of Anaheim, Santa Ana, Cypress, Fountain Valley, Stanton and Westminster. They will bring Misha and Nellie to each campus, introducing them to students, faculties and staff who are in need of puppy therapy and unconditional love.