Thursday, February 23, 2023

Canine classmate

Plymouth-Canton schools welcome K-9, therapy dog to classrooms

Scott Hughesdon and his partner, Echo, introduce
themselves to Laura Schroeder's third-grade class
at Smith Elementary School.
Third graders at Smith Elementary School got a surprise visit this month from a  soon-to-be part-time classmate whose special needs include a few kind words, a smile - and a water bowl. 

Echo, a cheerful 3-year-old Labrador retriever, recently made the rounds of the schoolclassrooms as part of his training to become a fully certified K-9 dog with side duties as a therapy dog. During the next few weeks, Echo will visit schools throughout Plymouth-Canton Community Schools district so he can become accustomed to his surroundings and most importantly, the students, teachers and staff who work, teach and learn in the two dozen district school buildings. 

Scott Hughesdon has taken
on the handling and training
of Echo, the first K-9/therapy
dog in the Plymouth Canton
Community School district.
Echo's handler, Scott Hughesdon, said Echo's top job will be providing safety, security and comfort. Hughesdon retired from the Canton Police Department in 2017 and now works at the Plymouth Canton Community Schools. He is working with master handler Scott Wilkes, a retired Dearborn Police Department officer, to ensure the best training for Echo.

“Echo is going to be a great addition to Plymouth-Canton Community Schools,” Hughesdon said. “He'll be the eyes and ears at our schools. He's going to work very hard to keep everyone safe and secure.”

Echo was named for Ed Jagst, a Canton Township police officer who was killed in 2021. Jagst's radio call sign was Echo 52. The dog is going through a 12-week training at the K9 Academy Training Facility in Taylor, which includes learning to detect firearms and explosives as well as being a four-legged comfort to students. 

Members of the Plymouth Canton Board of Education have strongly supported efforts to bring Echo to the district. 

“Families in our community want to be sure they're sending their children to safe schools where students can learn with peace of mind,” said Shawn Wilson, president of the Plymouth Canton Community Schools Board of Education. “That's why our board is deeply supportive of innovative ways to foster a safe and welcoming environment, including bringing a K-9 therapy dog like Echo on board.” 

The Kiwanis Club of Colonial Plymouth donated $13,000 to pay for Echo and fund his professional training. The gift is part of a wider effort from local service organizations to promote school safety, a spokesman said. The community-wide drive aims to raise funds for upgraded security measures in all Plymouth Canton Community Schools facilities. Plymouth Rotary Past President Dale Yagiela helped launch the idea of a K-9 therapy dog in 2022. 

“Echo and his handler are a key part of our security plan and we are very excited to welcome them to our district,” School Superintendent Dr. Monica Merritt said. “We would particularly like to thank the Kiwanis Club of Colonial Plymouth for the lead gift in this effort as well as ongoing support for the program from our school board members. This is a great example of the way residents of this great community band together to support our students and staff.”