Dubuque Community School District adapts to having service dogs in classrooms

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DUBUQUE, Iowa (KCRG) -- School districts are always adapting to new technology and teaching methods, but the Dubuque Community School District is getting used to adding dogs to the classroom.

Camdyn Hickson sits in class with his Diabetic Alert Dog, Bindi, on Friday, Jan. 18, 2019. (Allison Wong, KCRG-TV9)

The district currently has three service dogs in its schools: one at a high school, middle school, and an elementary school.

Roosevelt Middle Schooler Camdyn Hickson sits in class like any other kid, writing notes and laughing with his friends, but unlike other students, he always has a dog at his feet.

"I think it's cool having Bindi here," Cam said.

He has Type 1 Diabetes and his diabetic alert dog named Bindi helps regulate his blood sugar levels.

Cam explained, "what she does is paw is a high alert, a paw with a touch from her nose is a low alert." Bindi is able to catch Cam's high or lows up to 40 minutes before they happen. This allows him to stay ahead of the extremes.

Bindi goes everywhere with Cam. It might seem strange to see a dog walking the school hallways, but Cam says students haven't been phased by it. His mom came in on Bindi's first day to lay the ground rules.

Cam said his mom told students, "leave her alone, you can't talk to her, you can't pet her, like all the rules that most kids know and should know when there's a service dog around."

Cam's home base teacher Sara Roling said Bindi's been a great addition to the class.

"It's become totally natural," Roling said. "All of the kids know that Bindi is here to help Cam and that's her job in our classroom."

Roling expects to see the number of service dogs in schools go up.

"Having Bindi here with Camdyn is only making this more of a norm in our society and that's wonderful," she said.

DCSD Superintendent Stan Rheingans agrees.

"I just think the science around the help that a dog can provide has goten better, and so I think that the training and availability of those dogs is why we'll see an increase," Rheingans said.

He said there are things that need to be considered on behalf of other students.

"We have to be a little careful about allergies and those types of things so other students aren't impacted," Rheingans said. "But by and large those are things we can work around."

Cam's mom Janel Hickson said her son feels safer when Bindi is with him. She believes service dogs help not only with illnesses, but also provide emotional support for kids.

"A lot of those kids struggle with depression or anxiety or things like that because of their illnesses so the dogs, I think, help a lot with that as well," she said.

She hopes people can be accepting of service dogs in classrooms.

"It's not something that you're used to seeing, it's a change, that's for sure, but I think it's a good change," Hickson said.

So if at first it's a little jarring to see a dog walking in a school, just know it's for the good of a student.

"If something happens, Bindi's right there," Cam said.