Dr. Beresford and His Paw Pal Jim Dandee Bring Smiles to Carmel Clay Schools

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March 2022

The students and staff at Carmel Clay Schools (CCS) welcomed a new member of the CCS family last fall. CCS Superintendent Dr. Michael Beresford introduced Jim Dandee, a 2-year-old golden retriever, to the students and staff at the end of last September. Over the last several months, Dr. Beresford and several staff members have seen the positive impact that Jim Dandee has made on the student body throughout the school district. It’s pretty incredible how the unconditional love and acceptance of a trained facility dog can bring a sense of calm and joy to the classrooms, and at no cost to the CCS families or taxpayers.

I spoke with Dr. Beresford about how he became associated with the Indiana Canine Assistant Network (ICAN) and what compelled him to get involved with the organization.

Dr. Beresford and  Jim Dandee

The Purpose of ICAN

ICAN trains and places assistance dogs with individuals with disabilities and provides foundational life skills to inmates through their experience as trainers. ICAN is the only accredited service dog training program based in Indiana.

There are different categories in which ICAN’s dogs are specifically trained. Facility dogs, such as Jim Dandee, have been trained to work with professionals who incorporate the dog into the care of their clients, patients or students, and are most frequently placed in hospitals (i.e., physical therapy departments) or schools with special needs students.

ICAN dogs placed in facilities work with professionals who incorporate the dog into the care of their clients, patients or students. ICAN places facility dogs in pre-K through grade 12 schools, courthouses/CASA, rehab/nursing facilities and hospitals. For those applying for a school facility dog, in order for the dog to be fully utilized, the dog needs to be facilitated by an applicant who is in a social work/counselor position.

Dr. Beresford explained that he first became involved in ICAN’s Furlough Volunteer Program after developing an interest in the organization and its mission. As the dogs advance through various levels of comprehensive training inside the correctional facilities, ICAN wants its dogs to be well-adjusted to a life of serving each client for a specific purpose. The role of the ICAN furlough volunteer is to practice skills the dogs are learning in the facilities from the inmate handlers.

Joining the CCS Family

Dr. Beresford shared that Jim Dandee is the school district’s fourth service dog. “We’ve got Auggie ‘the doggie’ at Clay Middle School—he was our first official service dog,” Dr. Beresford shared. “Then we’ve got Palmer at West Clay [Elementary], and we’ve got Sirius Black at Carmel Middle [School], and those dogs are in those buildings every day. And we have Jim Dandee.”

“When I first got here [CCS], I told the team that I didn’t want them to buy me presents for my birthday or holidays because I don’t want them spending money on me for presents but rather have them do something for somebody else and tell me about it,” Dr. Beresford said. “So, I think it was on my birthday, several people here donated to ICAN. And ICAN came out [to CCS] with a black Labrador puppy and a retired service dog. I had been talking about my interest in service dogs and wanting to learn about the program.”

After seeing the retired service dog perform some of his 70-plus cues, Dr. Beresford thought that it would benefit the school district to have service dogs, and so a policy shift was made to allow service and/or therapy dogs in school facilities. Dr. Beresford waited two-and-a-half years before receiving a call from ICAN informing him that they had a good match, and while he waited for his dog, he participated in the furlough program.

“It was just a crazy coincidence, but the dog that I picked up from the women’s prison was the same black Labrador that I had met two years ago,” Dr. Beresford shared. “I got to work with him for two to three weeks, and I did a lot of online training through ICAN. Then kind of out of the blue, I got a call from ICAN, and they had a match for me, and I met Jim Dandee. The family that sponsored him named him ‘Jim’ after the father of the family in his memory, and Jim’s mom’s name is Dandelion, and they shortened it, so he is Jim Dandee.”

According to Dr. Beresford, Jim Dandee knows 30–40 cues and does “tricks” or cues with sight words, and he can tell “secrets,” which is where he puts his nose in your ear like he’s telling you something.

“He’s just a lot of fun, and he’s really good around people,” Dr. Beresford said. “He’s been to ball games, classrooms and just about everywhere I’ve gone, where it’s appropriate.” Jim Dandee has joined Dr. Beresford while he has substitute taught and even makes special appearances throughout the school district as an incentive or reward implemented by teachers and principals, or for other special occasions.

The impact that Jim Dandee has made on the students has been verbalized between the staff members and Dr. Beresford. Several instances where students who were withdrawn or incredibly timid have come out of their corners to pet Jim Dandee and engage with him and Dr. Beresford.

Dr. Beresford and  Jim Dandee

“I’ve subbed at Carmel High School, and during passing periods, he gets a bunch of kids around him, petting him,” Dr. Beresford stated. “As they’re petting the dog and talking about the dog or to the dog, you can see their breathing slow down and they relax. I say you kind of pet the stress away. It’s been very positive, and I do think there’s something special about an animal, and kids can learn from them. This has been a long stretch of what I would call chronic uncertainty for the last two years. But when I look back on this, it will be about how the community came together to make sure our kids got the best education that they could during a very difficult time. I’m grateful for the way everybody has worked together to take care of our kids, and I’m grateful for the four dogs who are taking care of our kids too.”