Chaparral High School has a new staffer on campus: he’s blonde, brown-eyed, and covered in fur.
Meet Rocket, the high school’s certified therapy dog, the first Police K9 to be assigned to a school resource officer in Maricopa County.
“We’ve been working on placing a service dog at one of our high schools for about a year,” said Scottsdale Unified Assistant Superintendent for Secondary Education Dr. Milissa Sackos.
“Rocket is going to fit right in at Chaparral and open up important, new avenues of communication with our students,” she added.
Though Rocket, a 2-year-old golden retriever, is assigned to Chaparral SRO Devon Lines, he will travel to other schools as needed.
“Much like our Chaparral students, we will be lifelong learners, training and learning constantly,” Lines said.
Lines approached the school administration with the idea of bringing a canine onto his team “to be another tool to support our students and staff and they were enthusiastic and supportive.”
“The Chaparral team works tirelessly to provide the highest level of care and support for our students, and Rocket will be another resource our students can rely on for when they are experiencing a crisis or just a tough day,” he added.
Lines said Rocket will wear many hats.
Not only is he a goodwill ambassador, greeting students and staff as they start their day, but Rocket will also support students experiencing crisis.
“Sadly, students can experience traumatic events in their lives which can have a very negative impact on them. Rocket will be a great tool to help mitigate the effects of trauma on our students who are experiencing a crisis,” Lines said.
According to UCLA Health, animal-assisted therapy research impacts one’s mental health by lowering anxiety, providing comfort, reducing loneliness, elevating moods and increasing mental stimulation.
“A student in crisis or just having a bad day can spend time with Rocket, and he does a tremendous job of reducing the burden students face,” Lines said.
It took Lines and his team nearly two years to develop a program for bringing a crisis canine on board.
“Because it was so essential that we get it right,” Lines said. “We didn’t want to enter into this lightly, as obtaining a canine is a big commitment on many levels.”
The Scottsdale Police Department School Resource Unit canine program is zero-cost and modeled after its Police Crisis Intervention Services canine program and an SRO program run by the Pima County Sheriff.
Rocket was obtained via Paws With A Cause, a Michigan-based organization that trains service dogs.
Initial funding was provided by the Chaparral High School Association of Parents and Teachers and the Scottsdale Unified School District Foundation, which raised more than $34,000 – $5,000 of which came from the parents group – to support the police department’s new school canine program.
“We highly value having a SPD SRO on campus, so we allocated money from our budget to help make that happen,” said Allison Barkley, president of the Chaparral parents group.
Lines said the parents’ “generous donation meant that a two-year dream could come true.”
“It meant that we would have essentially a real-life teddy bear available to support students in crisis,” he said. “Regardless of best laid plans, life happens to all of us, and our students unfortunately can go through tremendous crisis. CHAPTS’ donation meant that the students and staff now have another tremendous tool that will support them during their darkest days.”
The Scottsdale Unified Foundation intends to continue its support of Rocket with the hope of expanding the program to other campuses.
“I know there are some schools where teachers occasionally bring in their privately owned pets on occasion, but nothing like our program. I do anticipate in the future, other schools and districts in the area will develop similar programs,” Lines said.
Rocket has already a staff and student favorite.
“Rocket’s trainers chose this name for him because, in their words, ‘He is always ready to take off,’” Lines said. “He is so full of fun and loving energy and this name just fits him so well.”
Lines is Rocket’s primary handler and partner, responsible for his daily care, feeding and training.
And when Lines is unavailable, he has a back-up SRO trained to work with Rocket.
Rocket will embark on ongoing training with a local Paws With A Cause expert dog trainer.
“He is looking forward to a long and happy career supporting his Chaparral and SUSD family,” Lines said.