Coopers excited to add new member to their family
Riley Johansen | Staff Writer
A dog may be a man’s best friend, but the Cooper family not only wants to find their son Myles a best friend, but a life-long companion as well.
On February 18, Mason City Schools Superintendent Jonathan Cooper announced on Twitter the beginning of his family’s journey towards training and placing a service dog in their home for their eight-year-old son, Myles, who has Down syndrome.
The idea, which Cooper said their family has considered for quite a while, sparked from the needs that Myles requires as a child with a disability. Cooper said he remembers one incident in particular that a service dog could have prevented.
“When he was five years old, he had gotten away from us and we didn’t know where he was,” Cooper said. “He’s a runner, which means when he gets excited or interested in something, whether it be a bunny rabbit or a cat, he will take off. About three years ago, he got out of our home and got into our neighbor’s home and up on their second floor. We didn’t realize and had the whole neighborhood looking for him. He doesn’t always respond to you when you call his name, so we’ve had a couple of scares.”
While this incident created the thought of a dog, the Cooper’s true decision did not occur until three years later when Myles began to exhibit behaviors that could indicate Autism. Looking into the future, Cooper said that there were many abilities that a service dog could possess that could help to aid Myles in every aspect of his everyday life.
After thorough research, the Cooper family decided to apply for a dog at 4 Paws for Ability Inc., located in Xenia, Ohio. This nonprofit organization, which was recently featured in the Netflix documentary series ‘Dogs’, focuses on training and providing dogs to veterans and children with disabilities, as well as educating others about the use of service dogs in public.
After applying and being selected to receive a service dog, Cooper said that they are working towards raising the funds to provide a dog trained for all of their needs regarding Myles.
“It costs about $30,000 or $40,000 to train the dogs,” Cooper said. “There’s grant money out there that comes from people giving to this organization that offset that cost so it is about $17,000 that you have to raise a family. There are dogs that not only track and look for your child but also they can tether so they don’t run away.”
The fundraising efforts, which have reached the required $17,000 in the two weeks, all will go towards training a dog with the training a dog with the ability tether to Myles, track him by scent in the case of him running away, calm him in situations that can cause him anxiety, and to sleep with him to offer him a security that he needs at night.
Through being superintendent, Cooper’s decision to get a dog was driven by seeing the impact service animals have had around the district, especially following their involvement in the aid of Western Row students that are grieving the recent loss of their 10-year-old classmate, Sable Gibson.
“This last week when we lost a student at Western Row, a lot of the therapy dogs came together and I was able to go in with the dogs in the classrooms with students,” Cooper said. “I watched them bring a kind of calm and comfort to our students in a time that was really scary and full of uncertainty to a little kid. Dogs do that well, especially trained dogs. I kept seeing great benefits to that and I think in our district we’ve actually set up some some great systems to set our kids up.”
One of these dogs that Cooper was able to observe was Google, a service dog provided through the 4 Paws Program to math teacher Nicole Paxton in order to assist her seventh grade daughter Malia, who has both hearing and mobility issues.
“I think the one thing people think about when you get a service dog is that it’s mainly for one child, but it really affected the entire family,” Paxton said. “For us, we have all taken ownership of Malia. We’re all hyper-vigilant about where she is and what she’s doing. It gives us all a sense of peace having the dog in our family now. I think that seeing a few of our families was a spark that the Coopers needed to see their goal, the light at the end of all of the fundraising and craziness that they’re going to go through.”
While the efforts towards fundraising and training for a dog are far from over, Cooper said he admires the unification that the community has shown in order to help his family achieve their goals.
“I love that we as a society and a community have found innovative ways, whether it’s leveraging dogs or other tools in our community, to allow for kids with special needs or with different abilities to be as independent and as integrated in this inclusive environment as possible,” Cooper said. “That is really important to us as a family and as a district. We want Myles to be as independent as possible. We’re hoping that this would be another way for him to be just as independent as as the next kid, and I love that our community feels and believes in that same that same thing.”
Photo contributed by Johnathan Cooper .