School Committee supports assistance dog coming to the district

Jan 6, 2022

Bentley, a friendly, well-trained and easy-going labrador retriever, attended the Jan. 6 Wareham Public School Committee meeting, and he stole the show. 

Bentley is an assistance dog that works in Mansfield public schools. Bentley is partnered with Mansfield school resource officer Ken Wright. Together, Bentley and Wright build relationships with students. 

On Thursday evening, the duo came before the committee to demonstrate the value an assistance dog could provide to Wareham schools. 

“This is a program that’s going to be the best thing that you guys ever do,” Wright said. “The importance of a [school resource officer] to the schools, really, is to build relationships with school age kids.”

After seeing how people responded to the police department’s bomb-sniffing dogs, Wright said he wanted to find a way to bring a dog into the schools. 

“I started researching the options and luckily enough I stumbled upon NEADS,” he said. 

NEADS is an organization that trains service dogs to work with veterans, people who are hard of hearing or deaf, children and adults with physical disabilities and children with autism, Wright explained. 

The organization also trains some dogs to be assistance dogs like Bentley — or like the dog Wareham School Resource Officer Karl Baptiste hopes to bring to the district.

Baptiste explained that he’d seen Wright and Bentley in action and plans to bring the same sort of initiative to Wareham. 

Bentley is expected to work for about 10 years, Wright said. Not long after his arrival, Bentley’s popularity quickly surpassed that of his handler. Wright recalled Bentley being spotted once by an elementary school student when the pair was at a community event, rather than at school. 

The student said, “He comes to our school every day,” referring to Bentley, to which Wright jokingly replied, “I know, I’m the guy at the end of the leash.” 

Bentley goes to prom, major school events and has his own social media pages. 

Beyond Bentley’s status as a community celebrity, Wright emphasized that the program has been a great success in Mansfield and encouraged Wareham officials to support the effort. 

“He makes my job so much easier,” Wright said, noting that Bentley helps forge connections with students who might otherwise be more cautious and timid around police officers or dogs. 

After asking a few clarifying questions, the School Committee voted unanimously to support the idea of bringing an assistance dog like Bentley to the halls of Wareham’s schools. 

Although a formal policy regarding the dog has not yet been introduced or adopted, the committee voted to demonstrate their enthusiasm for the idea. They will evaluate a policy and make changes at a future meeting before voting to formally adopt it. 

Baptiste has been fundraising to help NEADS cover the cost of training the dogs. It costs NEADS about $45,000 to train each dog, and the organization asks officers to raise $8,000. Already, Baptiste has raised more than $14,000. 

Baptiste also mentioned that he has talked with Upper Cape Tech, and the school’s veterinary program will help fulfill his eventual assistance dog’s veterinary needs.