by Ruth Ann Replogle
Hennessey Public Schools has gone to the dogs.
Marshal, as in Marshal Dillon of “Gunsmoke” fame, runs the school, according to his owner Dawn Jones.
The early childhood special education teacher said she adopted the golden retriever mix after he kept appearing at the Hennessey Police Department unclaimed. That was four years ago.
Jones knew right away that Marshal was special and would be perfect as a therapy dog for her students.
“He was a very calm puppy,” she said. “The golden in him—he’s good in supporting others and he is good with kids.”
She enrolled Marshal in training to prepare him for his role. His classes included basic puppy training, followed by intermediate puppy training, good citizen training, and finally therapy training. The therapy training class was the most intensive of the four classes, Jones said, however, Marshal handled it like a pro.
Therapy training includes how to follow commands, not take without permission, and handle adaptive equipment such as walkers and wheelchairs.
Marshal’s innate sense of identifying who needs him kicked in right away.
“He’ll go right up to them,” Jones said, adding Marshal can tell which student needs him even in a crowd and will zone in at that particular child.
Marshal officially joined the HPS team last October as the emotional support dog.
“He loves coming to school,” Jones said. In fact, he knows when it’s time to go to work and whines on the off days and during the holiday breaks because he doesn’t understand why they’re not at the school already, she commented.
Everyone in the school system loves him, students and teachers alike. Although he’s assigned to the early childhood section, Marshal will make visits to the elementary, middle, and high schools if called upon.
“They don’t even notice me anymore, only him,” Jones said of the students. She said teachers are just as bad—“They want to pet him and get their fix.”
According to Jones, stroking Marshal’s soft head just seems to make everything better for everyone that comes in contact with him, including her own son, who has autism.
“He sits and lets people pet him,” she said. “That’s his whole job.”
Marshal has no problem walking by the kids and allowing them to love on him, laying down with the kids, letting them dress him up or talk to him like he’s their best friend, or simply cheering up someone who is sad by putting his head in their lap.
“We have lots of meltdowns,” Jones said, referring to her special needs students, and Marshal is the calming influence for every single one.
There is no doubt, like his namesake, that Marshal is the strong, silent type every town—or school as the case may be—needs.