Therapy Dog Check Presentation

At the January 17th Birmingham Public School board meeting, the Birmingham Rotary Club presented a $5,358 check for the District's Therapy Dog project. The funds represented monies received through a grant award from Eagles for Children.
With these funds, the Birmingham Rotary Club has now raised and contributed over $32,000 towards the Therapy Dog Project. The project places therapy dogs in the BPS school buildings to support student mental health.
Eagles for Children is a charity that is supported by metro Detroit country clubs through donations from their membership for causes that support children and their wellbeing. Birmingham Rotary identified the Therapy Dog Project as a worthy grant applicant focusing on improving youth mental health.
Pictured left to right, Dr. Embekka Roberson (BPS Superintendent), Dr. Dan Ryan (Rotary), Linda Hatfield (Rotary), Marsha Kovacs (Rotary President), Jason Pesamoska (West Maple Elementary School), Amy Palmer (BPS Therapy Dog Liaison) and Beth Meade (Eagles for Children Director of Charity Relations).

Rotary Club raises money to place therapy dogs at Birmingham schools


Birmingham Public Schools and the Birmingham Rotary Club have been looking for ways to improve mental health in students. They have decided to work together and focus their efforts on providing service dogs at the schools.

Next fall, a therapy dog named Snickers will be working at Berkshire Middle School as a form of emotional support for students. The name Snickers was the winner of the school’s dog naming contest.

Snickers was born in October 2021 and is currently in training to achieve therapy dog accreditation. Before he is working with students, Snickers will have time to become oriented with the school during the summer.

“We are optimistic and hopeful that having a therapy dog, starting with our middle schools, is going to really have some impact on the mental health and learning of our students,” BPS Coordinator for Professional Learning Bill Pugh said.

At a BPS Board of Education meeting May 24,  the Birmingham Rotary Club presented BPS a $20,000 check from its endowment fund. The money is to go towards the acquisition, training and placement of two more therapy dogs at BPS schools.

These two additional dogs will be placed at Derby Middle School and Birmingham Covington School. Once these dogs are placed, all of the BPS middle schools will have a service dog.

These two funded therapy dogs are expected to be born by the end of August of 2022.  If all of the training goes according to schedule, the new dogs are expected to be working at the schools by October 2023.

“Therapy dogs have been shown to not only promote their (students’) mental wellness, but they promote a positive mood, and they do anti-stress work,” Rotary President Elect Marsha Kovacs said.

Kovacs said the plan is for BPS staff to take the dogs in, and they will bring them to work every day

They might also bring the dogs to community and school events.

“The plan is that he (Snickers) will be available all day to the kids for petting, loving, talking, whatever they need,” Kovacs said.

BPS is partnering with 4 Pawz Strong to purchase and train the dogs. These dogs will work exclusively at BPS.

The nonprofit 4 Pawz Strong was started by Karen Storey, a special education teacher and MTSS facilitator at Brighton Area Schools.  This organization also utilizes local veterans to help with the training.

To protect students with allergies, the dogs are groomed regularly to avoid the buildup of dander, Pugh said. The dog’s handlers will also be aware of the students with allergies and will avoid being in close proximity to them.

If a student has a past trauma that has led them to be afraid of dogs, the dog handlers will also avoid bringing the dog close to that student.

“We also are able to problem solve any unique situations with support from Karen Storey, the owner of the nonprofit 4PawzStrong in Brighton, where we purchase our trained dogs. She has years of experience working with therapy dogs in schools,” Pugh said.

The service dogs for Derby Middle schools and Birmingham Covington School were raised at the 2022 Birmingham Rotary Club’s Master Gala.

Each year, the Birmingham Rotary Club uses this event to raise funds to distribute to community and international projects.



Birmingham Rotary Club's Endowment Fund Continues Support for Therapy Dogs in the Birmingham Public Schools


Representatives of The Birmingham Rotary Club presented the Birmingham Public Schools (BPS) with a $20,000 check from its Endowment Fund for acquisition, training and placement of two additional therapy dogs at the BPS Board meeting on Tuesday May 24. The Birmingham Rotary Club's Mental Health Committee member, Dr. Daniel Ryan presented the check to the BPS Board after introductions from Superintendent Embekka Roberson and Program Manager, William Pugh.

The Birmingham Rotary Club's Mental Health committee promotes positive mental health initiatives and advocacy primarily focused on children in their development years.

Mr. Pugh stated that the District is interested in obtaining a full-time therapy dog at each of the District's school buildings. With Birmingham Rotary's current commitment, now all middle schools will have a therapy dog. Birmingham Rotary's Endowment Fund had previously funded the acquisition, training and placement of a therapy dog at Berkshire Middle School. The two new therapy dogs will be placed at Derby Middle School and Birmingham Covington School. Mr. Pugh indicated the continued interest in working with Birmingham Rotary on helping with the remaining schools in the District.

The therapy dog for Berkshire Middle School is currently involved in training. The school held a dog naming contest, and the name "Snickers" was selected. Snickers is expected to begin working in the Fall of 2022 after achieving therapy dog accreditation.

Mr. Pugh added that BPS partners with 4PawzStrong in Brighton to purchase and train the therapy dogs to be used exclusively in BPS schools. Even due to the very high demand for therapy dogs, 4PawzStrong is currently able to secure two dogs from litters expected by the end of August of 2022. The dogs would then be under the care of 4PawzStrong’s training program, which is a partnership with a local veterans organization. Once the puppies are ready, they would begin their full training regimen and work up to full AKC certification as a therapy dog. The anticipated date for that certification would be August of 2023 when it would be turned over to a host family and begin acclimating to the host family and the school where it will work. If the dogs are responsive and ready, they could be working in the school by October of next year (2023).

Snickers was funded in 2021 by Birmingham Rotary's Endowment Fund. Funds for the two additional therapy dogs were raised at Birmingham Rotary Club's Master Gala held in March 2022. Annually, the Club raises funds that are distributed to noteworthy projects in the community and internationally. Dr. Ryan expressed his hope that the community would take notice of Birmingham Rotary's efforts and look at the other awesome things the Club does and consider joining.

From Left to Right, John Westerheide (Rotary Board), Dr. Daniel Ryan (Rotary Therapy Dog Program Lead), Linda Hatfield (Rotary Board), Marsha Kovacs (In-coming Rotary Club President), Bill Pugh (BPS Therapy Dog Project Lead), Marla Otterbacher (Derby Middle School Principal), and Courtney Bassett (BCS teacher).