January 19, 2005
Sad eyes, a gentle demeanor and a wagging tail — the communication tools of the newest staff member at Compadre High School, an alternative campus in the Tempe Union High School District.
Saba, a 2-year-old yellow Labrador-golden retriever mix, works with school psychologist Charlotte Brown, responding faithfully to nearly 50 commands, to help her connect with students.
The pair met and trained together for two weeks at Canine Companions for Independence in Oceanside, Calif. After proving they could work well together at Compadre, they returned to Oceanside this month for their graduation.
Saba’s puppy trainer, Melissa Lester, flew from Austin, Texas, for the event — which marked the first time Canine Companions had placed a service dog at any Arizona school. Typically, service dogs work one on one with disabled people.
Saba now shares a home with Brown, who finds the relationship natural because she grew up with two blind parents who each had a service dog.
Compadre student Dianne Treesh, 16, said Saba quickly has become one of the school’s most popular faculty members.
"She doesn’t punish you," Treesh said. "She just loves you."
During an outdoor break between classes Tuesday, Saba roamed from group to group soliciting affection. On command, she climbed on a bench next to one group of boys and laid her head on the shoulder of Tommy Cairns, an 18-year-old senior.
"We don’t mind one bit because we love Saba," Cairns said.
Brown recalled one recent counseling session with a foster child struggling to fit in at Compadre. The girl sat defiantly in Brown’s office unwilling to talk about much until the girl noticed Saba watching her from a dog mattress in the corner.
Brown told the girl Saba had moved like a foster child from training homes in Flagstaff, Oceanside and Austin — and now the dog was adjusting to life in Tempe. Before long, Brown said, the girl was on the floor consoling Saba and talking about her own life in eight different homes.
"The student opened up to Saba," Brown said. "I could not have done that alone."