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Rudyard Schools welcomes safety dog that sniffs out firearms, explosives

14-month-old yellow lab will also provide emotional support to staff and students

The Rudyard School District officially welcomed in Gator, a 14-month-old yellow lab, and his handler, Rudyard alumnus Carlos Molina this morning.

As previously reported by SooLeader in March, Gator is a special dog that is trained to sniff out firearms and explosives. When he is not doing that, he can provide emotional support to staff and students.

Superintendent Tom McKee is glad this day has finally come.

"We are excited! We have really been focusing on student safety as that is our No. 1 priority here at Rudyard Area Schools. This is a new adventure for us. We partnered with Zebra K9 to not only have an emotional support dog, which is secondary, but a safety and security dog," McKee said.

It's all about visibility so the students and staff are comfortable with Gator and know that this is a new level of security.

"Gator and Carlos will be in the hallways, interacting with the students every day for the rest of the school year," McKee said.

While Gator may think this is for fun, the daily interaction a very important part of his job..

"Watching Gator work and interact with the kids, we're just really excited that the kids are going to benefit from this," McKee added.

Greg Guidice, founder and CEO of Zebra K9, was also there for Carlos and Gator's first day at the school.

"Guns don't know any geographic difference. Nor does violence. The beauty is having a safety dog is just another level of security for the district while having an emotional piece so they get two benefits in having the dog here," Guidice said.

Outside of Rudyard and St. Ignace, there are five other districts that use Zebra K9 services.  

"We have seen in other schools is that it is a pro-active deterrent. It actually changes students' behavior. They know the dog is there everyday and they start to build a relationship with the dog and that really changes the dynamics," Guidice said.

Molina is a life-long Rudyard resident who graduated from Rudyard High School in 2016.

He saw the job listing for this Zebra K9 position on Facebook one night and decided to apply for it.

Molina got the position then had intensive training downstate with Zebra K9 before he could start this job with Gator.

"It's been a really fun experience. It's all stuff that was kind of new to me from my previous background. It's been a lot of fun. It's super exciting just learning new stuff and excited to be a part of it," Molina said.

There is no direct cost to the district or community to have this program.

"This position is 100 per cent grant funded through the 31aa grant from Michigan which is designed for safety, security and mental wellness of students," McKee said.

"This is something that may be unique to a rural school like Rudyard but we are excited to try something new. If we are not trying new things for our kids, then what are we doing?"