The Student News Site of East Lansing High School


The Student News Site of East Lansing High School


The Student News Site of East Lansing High School


Pups With A Purpose

Why East Lansing’s new facility dogs deserve a round of a-paws
Photo by Nina VanOtteren
Kindergartner, Safa Baher and administrative assistant, Rebecca McAndrews take Marble facility dog, Mel on a walk through the halls.

Celebrities walk the halls of Robert L. Green and Marble Elementary schools. Students call their names excitedly when they see them walking by, and they become even more animated when these four-legged stars stop to interact with them. 

They are two of the district’s facility dogs, Mel and Trammell.

Story continues below advertisement

However, their contributions span beyond being local celebrities–they have responsibilities. According to Noreen Sheehan, a social worker at Robert L. Green Elementary School, elementary school is a pivotal time when students begin to figure out how to make friends and work with others.

“Many students are learning how to regulate their feelings and how to manage being in a room with 23 other children, and it’s overwhelming,” Sheehan said.

Sheehan has developed strategies with Trammell to help students cope with the many complications that can arise during a school day. Students who come into Sheehan’s office to take a break have the option to take Trammel on a walk. This creates an opportunity to calm down while also practicing social skills.

“Everyone loves [Trammel]. it’s like walking around with a celebrity when you’re with him,” Sheehan said. “Everyone is going to come up and ask, ‘Can I pet him?’”

An administrative assistant at Marble Elementary School, Rebecca McAndrews, also uses her facility dog, Mel, to help kids take a break or deal with overwhelming emotions. Like Trammell, students who meet with Mel have the option to take her on walks or have a cuddle session.

“A lot of times, a walk with Mel to class is like a huge way that they can recenter themselves and move on with their day in a positive way,” McAndrews said. “Also, we’ve just had kids that need time with Mel to snuggle.”

Sometimes, just Mel’s presence is enough to bring joy into a student’s day. Safa Baher, a kindergartener at Marble, sees Mel every day before and after school and visits her frequently during the week. Baher doesn’t have a dog, but she wishes she could take Mel home. The moment she met Mel on the first day of school, her first-day jitters immediately dissipated.

“On the first day of kindergarten, everyone was scared, but I didn’t feel scared when I met Mel,” Baher said.

Beyond calming strolls and snuggle sessions, Mel serves another purpose as a role model and as an incentive for students. McAndrews uses time with Mel as a reward for kids if they get all their tasks done. Additionally, Mel meets with kids who are a part of the Emotionally Impaired (EI) program at Marble. The students in EI can look to Mel as an example of how to behave in a classroom setting.

“Our EI teacher does a lot of talking like, ‘Oh, now look at Mel; she’s being calm with her body. She’s being safe with her body. That means that she gets to play now,’” McAndrews said.

At Green Elementary, Trammell often works with Sheehan when she meets with students during their social work time. During these sessions, Sheehan works on recognizing emotions and developing coping skills. If a student isn’t ready to talk about how they feel, Sheehan will talk about Trammell’s emotions to encourage them to open up.

“We’ll say, ‘Do you think Trammell ever gets mad?’ and ‘What do you think Trammell should do when he gets mad?’” Sheehan said.

Helping students grow socially and emotionally is not the only thing that elementary facility dogs are tasked with. Elementary school is when students learn the foundations for vital academic skills that they will utilize throughout their lives. This can be challenging and stressful, so Trammell and Mel often help motivate students to want to learn.

Mila Spencer is a fifth grader at Robert L. Green Elementary. She takes breaks with Trammell once a week when she feels overwhelmed or just needs some “Trammell time.” Before Trammell came to her Marble, Spencer often found herself feeling distressed over academics and other irritants. Now, Spencer can do homework and other activities with Trammell, which has changed her outlook on school.

“I did a math test with him, and I felt calmer,” Spencer said. “I can get my work done when I see Trammell more.”

Trammell and Mel don’t just motivate individuals–they inspire the entire school. During March reading month, teachers schedule reading time with Mel, and right outside the library of Green Elementary hangs a giant March Reading Month mural featuring Trammell surrounded by books. Young readers can gain confidence reading to and conversing with the facility dogs.

“An animal doesn’t judge you,” Sheehan said. “They’re always gonna listen, and they’re never gonna judge you for what you’re saying.”

Leave a Comment
More to Discover
About the Contributors
Holyn Walsh
Holyn Walsh, Editor-in-Chief of Copy
Holyn Walsh is a member of the Class of 2025 and one of the Staff Writers for Portrait. This is Holyn’s first year on staff as a freshman. Holyn’s favorite thing about journalism is being able to connect with people and share their stories. When she is not in the newsroom, Holyn loves swimming and watching horror movies.  
Nina VanOtteren
Nina VanOtteren, Photography Editor
Nina is a member of the Class of 2025 and is a Photography Editor for Portrait. This is her second year on staff as a junior. Nina’s favorite thing about journalism is being able to inform others about things going on through different perspectives. When she is not in the newsroom, Nina loves skiing, spending time with friends and playing soccer.

Comments (0)

All Portrait Picks Reader Picks Sort: Newest

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *