PRINCETON – Service dogs are “superheroes,” says Mercer County Magistrate Sandra J. Dorsey, who recently took her own personal service dog to Mercer Elementary School to educate children on the realities of having a service dog, and what to do in their presence.


Dorsey's service dog is a mastiff named Officer Kodiak.


“When people see him, it helps educate the public to ignore a service dog,” Dorsey told The West Virginia Record. “Although Kodiak is a large dog, I constantly have to remind people in public not to try to touch him, that he is working.”


Most children know to ask permission before petting the service dogs, but some others, and many adults, usually try to touch Kodiak despite the service dog vest and signs that say, “not to touch, talk or distract him.”


Service dogs serve many different purposes. Magistrate Dorsey’s visit to Mercer Elementary School taught kids the difference between a service dog, therapy dog and emotional support dog.


“They learned dogs can contribute to learning environments, as the dogs help enable children develop confidence to read out loud,” Dorsey said. “Certain dogs can help traumatized individuals discuss scary events. Working service dogs can help individuals who suffer from seizures, diabetes, PTSD, autism, balance, hearing, and other health issues.”


The Mercer County Magistrate has had her service dog for several years to help her with walking and balance due to nerve damage in her feet.


“I am currently wearing a boot because I did not have Kodiak next to me and my nerves caused my toes to contract under my foot,” Dorsey said.


Prior to having Kodiak, Magistrate Dorsey had the nerves in her foot removed. As a result, the nerves in her foot would not transmit to her brain when she was losing her balance so she would fall when she stepped on uneven surfaces or if she was squatting down to pick things up.


But Officer Kodiak came to her rescue, and he does well with helping others too.


“The good points in having a service dog as a magistrate, is that I have more stability moving from the outside areas into the inside,” Dorsey said. “While working in Bluefield, he would go out to the assistant’s offices when people would get loud with them, simply lie down, with his head on the ground, [and] it would settle people down.”


Kodiak also shows great concern when babies cry and would peek around the corner to ensure they were okay before moving on.


On a regular workday, Kodiak lies under the desk when in her office or under the bench when in court.


“His job is to stay close to me and I have had him in the court since he was seven weeks old,” Magistrate Dorsey said. “A well-trained service dog will not be noticed, unless they are actively working.”


The goal of the school visit was to help students understand the differences in working dog categories, dog etiquette and how to approach any dog.


“They learned service dogs can be as small as a toy poodle or as large as a mastiff, depending on the work required,” she said. “Furthermore, they learned not all disabilities are visible to the eye. But, the service animal allows its handler to live a full productive life.”

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