Santee students keep canine partners moving forward

Courtesy photo Through the Recess with Rover program students help dogs learn the ropes of being a companion animal.

Service dogs in training are providing learning opportunities to students in the Santee School District in the Recess with Rover program, a partnership with Cajon Park School and Momentum Tutoring.
The dogs in the program, Marjess, Raspberry, Rainy, Winslow, Putman, Merin, Kiva, and Roe are support dogs trained by Canine Champions.
During Recess with Rover, students learn from experts about interacting with dogs, keeping dogs healthy, and learning that even dogs go to college. This is early training for dogs trained by Canine Companions before heading to their last step in training, service dog college.

Cajon Park Principal Andrew Johnston said the program I going extremely well, but said it is hard not to be a fun day when the kids come out and see the cute dogs. He said that he is sure that attendance is up on Thursdays as no student wants to miss the opportunity to interact with the dogs.

“It is wonderful to see the students have a sense of joy,” he said. “Certainly, in today’s society, many kids have anxiety and pets are well known to lower that anxiety. Given an opportunity to spend time with a dog, some of our students have not had the opportunity to even touch or pet a dog before, which I was very surprised. The handlers of the dogs are very knowledgeable and wonderful people who really explain a lot about the care of animals, how to take care of them responsibly, and what they need. But also, really instruct the students that these are service animals that are going off to college to be leaders of the blind and be that real deep level of a service animal. They get to learn a lot about how they are trained and what they will be doing for those community members that need that kind of assistance. So, there is a little bit of learning going on, and many chances to just pet a dog and visit with an animal.”

Terri Bozhor, CEO and founder of Momentum Tutoring in Santee said Recess with Rover is a new program that it started in December 2022 and the idea came from her cousin who worked with Love on a Leash and was telling her how they went out to different schools. She shared it with her board members, and one board member has connections with service dogs and training. Momentum has a dog Roe, who kept coming back. She had kidney problems and was disqualified as a service dog.

“One of the things they need [dogs] is to go and be socialized in different environments,” she said, adding that the board member reached out to other companion dog raisers, who were excited for the opportunity.

Bozhor reached out to Rio Seco School, they loved the idea, and coordinated with the SSD and got the program approved. Cajon Park is the third school in the district to participate in the program along with Chet F. Harriett School. She said the program’s length depends on the size of the school.

“Our goal is to work with administrations, let the teachers know that the program is coming,” she said. “We like to mix up the groups so each week teachers are allowed to pick four or five students from their class, and we try to make it so everyone in the class has an opportunity.”

Bozhor said Roe is like a mascot for Momentum, a representative for Canine Companions, and fills in if there is a problem with one of the other puppies.

“These young dogs, this is their training,” she said. “They are not experts in this. When we work with her, we call her Ms. Roe-Ber.”

Bozhor said the program started out working well. So much so that she “had a problem with my cheeks because I was smiling so much.”

“The dogs are really happy to come into new places,” she said. “The kids have a heads up about the dogs, but they really do not know what to expect. So, when they walk in and see all these cute dogs running around the room, they put their hands to their faces and are super excited. You can see the change in them from them walking down the hall and walking in and seeing what is really happening. It is a real collaboration between the school and all of us.”

Bozhor said during the time with the dogs, handlers will show special tricks, how they have been doing basic training with the dogs, and the dogs are getting ready to go off to “dog college.”

“It is a really good chance for us to talk to the kids about work ethics,” she said. “Learning what it means to have a purpose. We all have a purpose. There are different actions. Some kids will hold onto the dogs and not let go. They lay down and hug them. They scratch them. And some will sit back. They have never had interactions with a dog. To help with that we bring in junior high leaders and they serve as helpers to the handlers.”

Bozhor said the program has shown that with shy kids, the dog, the handler, and the junior high ambassadors can make a difference in their first reaction with them becoming active in the program.

The dogs go to college, learn what specialties they have, then are matched with a person, and then Canine Companions provides them with a service dog at no costs.

Recess with Rover is a Behavioral Health Program, made possible through Momentum Tutoring’s K-12 Community Grant from the County of San Diego and the San Diego District Attorney’s Office.