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JoJo the therapy dog goes to work at Centre

Beloved by kids young and old

Staff writer

Students at Centre schools are used to seeing a big black standard poodle walking the hallways with its owner, science teacher Cindy Riedel.

“Of course, the little ones love him, but the big kids love him, too,” Riedel said.

JoJo is 30 inches tall and weighs 55 pounds. The 7-year-old canine is a trained and internationally certified therapy dog. He went through training with Riedel and lives with her at Marion County Lake.

Unlike a service dog that goes everywhere with its owner, JoJo is not allowed into some places. He can go into schools, hospitals, nursing homes, and similar facilities, but he can’t go into restaurants, grocery stores, or retail stores. He sometimes wears a “Therapy Dog” bandanna to identify him.

When JoJo is at school, he is always on call. Any teacher from any classroom may ask to have him brought to their classroom. He helps to calm students if they are upset, and a visit from him can be a reward for good behavior. Sometimes, he is called to the counselor’s office to help a student who has behavioral problems.

On Monday, JoJo received a thank you note from a special education student. It read, “Thank you for visiting me on my birthday. I like to spend time with you.”

“JoJo treats everyone equally and relates to everybody,” Riedel said. “He starts each hour by greeting everybody in the classroom, then sits with one student for a while before moving on to another.”

Riedel is particular about how students handle JoJo. Although the dog has a good disposition and has been trained to accept children swarming around him, Riedel tells students to be careful not to make him feel threatened.

“Don’t put him in a position where he will growl, or he’ll never come back,” she tells them.

Riedel began thinking about using pets in the classroom eight or nine years ago. She has a miniature poodle named Spunky she thought could be trained for that purpose. She signed up for a weeklong session called Canines in the Classroom, but when Spunky was brought in, the little dog shook with nervousness and made whining sounds. She realized the little guy couldn’t handle the job.

“I knew how smart poodles are and how easily they can be trained,” she said, “so I started looking for a larger dog.”

She got JoJo in May 2009. He was 1 year old.

“JoJo is very much a momma’s boy,” Riedel said. “He gets separation anxiety when I’m out of his sight.”

She doesn’t bring him to school every day. Usually he’s there once or twice a week depending on Riedel’s schedule.

“He works when he’s here and he gets tired,” she said. “It’s too stressful for him to come every day. He sleeps a lot after he’s been here.”

Last modified March 5, 2015

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