A New (Furry) Face: Mineral County schools may be getting comfort dog

Liz Beavers
Tribune Managing Editor

KEYSER - Students at Keyser Primary and Keyser Middle School could soon start seeing a new face in the hallways - a furry one.

Preventive Resource Officer Chris Fraley, who is in his inaugural year as the PRO officer at the two schools as well as at the Mineral County Technical Center, has gotten the go-ahead from the Mineral County Board of Education to pursue obtaining a therapy dog as his K-9 partner.

Fraley told the members of the board recently that there is a pilot program currently available that would provide the dog to Mineral County at no cost.

“Normally, this would cost between $20,000-$60,000 … but Fetch & More is offering this to Mineral County free of charge,” he said. “It’s an opportunity of a lifetime.”

Cooper is a 1-year-old American Yellow Lab that may be coming to Keyser Primary and Keyser Middle School to serve as a therapy dog.

According to Fraley, the only cost to the county would be approximately $3,000 a year for food, vet visits and other necessities, plus the approximately $3,000 cost of placing a cage for the dog in his cruiser.

Fraley added that, especially with the uncertainties students currently face due to COVID, mental health is a growing concern and the time seems perfect for this type of program.

Known as a psychiatric service canine, or “comfort dog,” the fully deputized K-9 would visit classrooms, nurse’s stations, and administrative offices and be available to help students having emotional issues.

The comfort dogs can also be trained for drug detection, bomb detection, or search and rescue, but he feels drug detection might not be a good fit because the students would associate that part of the canine’s purpose with a negative.

Members of the board of education felt, however, that dual training the dog for bomb detection would work well for the county. Now, when bomb threats occur, school officials must wait for a dog to come in from Cumberland or farther.

Fraley emphasized, however, that the dog’s main purpose would be as  emotional support for the young students who might find it easier to talk to a furry friend as opposed to a teacher or even a family member.

“Dogs listen unconditionally; they’re non-judgemental,” he said.

PRO Officer Chris Fraley talks to the Mineral County Board of Education about the possibility of having a comfort dog assigned to Keyser Primary and Keyser Middle School.

Fetch and More already has a dog in mind for Mineral County, and his name is Cooper.

He is a 1-year-old American Yellow Lab that, according to Fraley, has been described by his trainers as “a rock star.”

“He’s full of energy and loves to play,” Fraley said.

John Wilson, coordinator of school safety for Mineral County, noted that the project “is in the preliminary stage,” but he and Fraley wanted to make sure the board members were ok with the idea before they proceeded.

“There are several other things we need to look at before the program can be implemented,” he said.

“I think it’s great,” board member Donnie Ashby said. “We do this for our veterans and it helps.”

Fraley was told to proceed with the program.