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Puppy joins Southwestern classroom
SW Service Pup 772 web
Southwestern third grade teacher Denise Brania, left, and Nicole Meadowcroft, president of Custom Canines, hold Southwestern Elementarys newest student, Hazel, a standard poodle being trained to be a service dog.

HAZEL GREEN—The Southwestern Elementary/Middle School made a new friend last week.

A 4-month-old black standard poodle puppy named Hazel made her first appearance at the school with her handler, Denise Brania, a third grade teacher at Southwestern Elementary, at a special school assembly on Sept. 21. Brania will be raising Hazel to eventually become a service dog.

Two years ago, the school held a fundraiser netting approximately $3,000 that was donated to Custom Canines, a service dog academy located in Sun Prairie. Brania has been trained to be a volunteer foster family for service dogs and Hazel has been placed in her care for several months, until she is ready for the next step in training.

Nicole Meadowcroft, president of Custom Canines, said she wasn’t sure what Hazel would eventually be trained to do. After her puppy training is complete, she will proceed to service dog training where a specific service will be identified for her.

Service dogs aren’t limited to the visually impaired. They can be used to help people with a wide variety of needs, including blindness, wheel chair and mobility, retrieving items, autism, diabetes, first response and post traumatic stress disorder.

“I commend you for helping to train Hazel,” Meadowcroftsaid during the student assembly. “It’s a big job. All of you students are her teachers, too. You have to resist petting her and it’s not OK to give her food or treats. She has a very special diet and is fed at home before and after school.”

Meadowcroft educated the students on Hazel’s responsibilities. While Hazel wears the red service vest, she is considered to be working and should not be distracted, pet or played with. The vest is also a training tool for the puppy to know that she needs to be alert and pay attention.

Hazel will mostly stay in her kennel in Brania’s classroom during the day. The students will have a hand in helping with her care during the day. Brania said Hazel won’t be a distraction to the students, but a learning tool instead. She will provide an ear to listen to students read aloud and a reward for students who excel.

Brania is also planning for future educational opportunities based around service dogs.