Facility dog brings comfort to students at Claymont

Facility dog brings comfort to students at Claymont

Poet is not a typical middle school student, yet she attends school every day at Claymont Middle School, helping students as a facility dog in this most stressful of school years.


Poet is not a typical middle school student, yet she attends school every day at Claymont Middle School, helping students as a facility dog in this most stressful of school years.

Claymont Middle School counselor Susan Monticelli said Poet, a Golden Retriever-Labrador Retriever mix, came about due to a confluence of events, leading many to believe Poet’s arrival was very much meant to be.

“A lifelong area resident, Dale ‘Smit-dog’ Smith, was a 1979 graduate of Claymont High School,” Monticelli said. “Dale Smith passed away suddenly at his home on April 4, 2020. His daughter, Kiersten Young, felt it only fitting that any memorial contributions be made to support children and animals since Dale’s love of both was evidenced his entire life.”

Funds meant to memorialize Smith were ready to help just the right situation.

Another community loss, several months earlier, brought a grieving young student to Monticelli’s school office. Connor Douglas Seevers, 19, was a 2019 Claymont High School graduate who died following an accident in October of last year. When Seevers’ surviving brother came to Monticelli seeking her help, he suggested a facility dog might be helpful for many of the students.

“I saw this as a two-pronged solution,” Monticelli said. “On one hand, a facility dog could help [the student] when he was feeling low. Petting a dog can increase serotonin levels, thus enhancing mood in humans. On the other hand, I knew if he could dive into some type of distraction, this too would allow him to continue healing and learning to cope with his loss.”

Monticelli, along with the student and several faculty members, took the idea to the board of education, which approved the acquisition of a facility dog. Next came fundraising to cover the $5,000 expense of procuring a fully trained, socialized and prepared dog to suit the school’s purpose. By the beginning of this school year, $3,000 had been raised, along with commitments from a local veterinarian, Dr. Fisher, to provide medical care and Doggie Doos grooming to help keep Poet in good trim.

That’s when Poet came into the lives of Claymont Middle School students. She arrived the first day of school. “When the students filed into the gymnasium for an assembly, you should see the concern in their eyes. They weren’t able to hug and greet their friends, and they had to stay separated. But the minute Poet came in, you could just feel the tension in the room lift and the students relax with her around.”

That first day saw a very exhausted Poet ready to get home and rest, Monticelli said.

A group of students have been undergoing training to act as handlers for Poet, and the four-legged Claymont student makes her way around classrooms unobtrusively each day, gathering pats and ear scratches as she offers reassurance and comfort for the children.

Still, a home needed to be found for Poet to live when she wasn’t at school. As it happens, a teacher at the school, Jane Lesiecki, visited Monticelli’s office on a particularly bad day. Lesiecki’s family dog had been put down recently due to severe illness, and her own family was having difficulty adjusting to the loss.

“She said, ‘I wish there was a way I could just get a housebroken dog ready to go.’ Now Poet lives with the Lesiecki family and comes to school every day,” Monticelli said.

Teachers are making use of Poet in other ways, and students have been assigned writing projects playing into Poet’s literary name.

Most of the $5,000 has been raised in the community with about $500 remaining, Monticelli explained. “We will also have expenses for training, and we would like to be able to bring Poet into play in working with some of our special-needs students.”

Most all of the participants in bringing Poet to Claymont Middle School, knowingly or not, have been graduates of Claymont schools over the past 40 or more years. In the Claymont community, Monticelli said, “We come together when another Mustang needs us.”

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