Faithful servants take on new task

Students at New Dominion Alternative School in Manassas have taken in some four-legged companions as part of a program to learn responsibility, while at the same time doing something worthwhile for the community.

Their responsibilities will include grooming, cleaning and caring for service dogs from Blue Ridge Assistance Dogs, Inc., a nonprofit organization that provides professionally trained dogs to people with disabilities.

New Dominion students have been brought from their respective school for various reasons such as disciplinary, absenteeism or academic issues. Nine middle school students from Sue Flores’ class will be visiting the kennel in Manassas twice a week to care for the dogs for their Learn and Serve project. Learn and Serve America is a corporation for national and community service.

“I want them to know what it feels like to do something good and worthwhile for other people,” Flores said.

Hope, a golden Labrador retriever, and her trainer, Lydia Wade-Driver, came to the school Thursday to demonstrate how service dogs can assist people with disabilities.

Service dogs can open and close doors, turn light switches on and off, pick up a cordless telephone or newspaper, or bring keys to a person. Hope even carried a bright mini-backpack around her neck to hold keys or other belongings for her owner or trainer.

Students will be learning various dog-training commands needed for grooming the dog’s coat, brushing its teeth or cleaning its ears.

LeLand Meadows, 14, arrived in September from Beville Middle School in Woodbridge. Meadows has four pit bulls at home and said he is looking forward to working with the service dogs.

“With a dog you got to have patience. And with some people [you] got to have a lot of patience,” Meadows said.

The students will also be learning how to train Hope’s puppies, which were born about five weeks ago. While working with the dogs and puppies, students will monitor their growth and compare differences and similarities.

Chase Miller, 14, arrived in September from Graham Park Middle School in Triangle. Since he arrived at New Dominion, he has learned to ignore people if they insult him. He thinks working with service dogs will help him to get along better with others, he said.

New Dominion is a National Service-Learning Leader School, which means its service-learning curriculum and projects are role models to schools across the country.

Other classes are making quilts for the community or reading to students at elementary schools, said Julia Muse, Learn and Serve coordinator.

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