Canine program rewards Onawa Iowa student
Tim Gallagher Sioux City Journal staff writer
ONAWA, Iowa n Tera Jurrens finished first semester tests at West Monona High
School Thursday, then prepped classmate Rosa for her final exam.
Jurrens is a senior getting reading for college. Rosa is a lab-retriever mix
preparing for a life of helping the disabled through Canine Companions for
Independence. Jurrens became involved with the program shortly after a 4-H camp
four years ago.
“I was at a 4-H camp in Madrid, Iowa, and a girl in the camp had a physical
disability,” said Jurrens, the daughter of Jan and Jeanette Jurrens of Onawa.
The girl wasn’t blind, but she had a canine companion who assisted her with
Jurrens, whose mother is a dog-groomer, had been around dogs her entire life.
The arrangement interested her, so she came home and did some research to learn
about the program based in Ohio and California. There is no compensation for a
trainer. The entire setup is run by volunteers.
“I knew it would be a fun program to get into,” she says. “I wanted to train a
dog to help someone.”
Rosa is her third canine. Her previous “students” were Hobie and Herschel, dogs
now helping disabled persons.
“Hobie is with a paraplegic in Ohio. Hobie is home-certified and helps do things
like open the refrigerator and turn on lights for his master, who lives alone,”
Herschel works in a special education school in Kentucky. Teachers use him as a
reward for students who complete tasks.
Jurrens has trained each canine, instructing them to obey 25 commands over an
18-month course. Part of her instruction involves taking the dog to school each
day. Jurrens keeps a small bag of treats in her locker to reward Rosa for
obeying a “sit” or “shake” command.
While she’s in class, Rosa sits at Jurrens’ feet, often taking a nap during math
and English instruction. Her trainer sure doesn’t, evidenced by her 3.85 grade
“Rosa dreams when we’re in class,” says Jurrens. “She sometimes barks or cries
during a dream, so I have to wake her up.”
Good fit at West Monona
Jurrens spoke to the school board about the program a few years ago before she
began. The board and faculty gave their approval. Principal Steve Peiffer said
it’s been a good fit at West Monona. There have been no complaints about
allergies or distractions. Actually, it probably has resulted in a series of
teachable moments, helping children understand what others less fortunate go
“Our students have had a good experience seeing the progress of the dogs,” he
“The kids also keep up to date on the dogs Tera has trained,” says Pam Kinney, a
staff member. “We sent Herschel a graduation card when he completed his training
(in Ohio). The kids all signed it.”
Kinney says she’ll hate to see Jurrens graduate. Faculty members have enjoyed
her as a student. They’ve also enjoyed seeing her “students” n the canines n on
a daily basis.
“It’s remarkable for any teen to take on that kind of responsibility and remain
so dedicated,” says Peiffer.
This isn’t the only thing she does at West Monona, mind you. Jurrens is also a
track letter winner and a three-time all-conference cross country runner. She
plans to continue her academic and canine-training career this fall at Ohio
State University in Columbus. She’s already been given approval to work with a
canine around-the-clock as she studies animal science at OSU. One day, Jurrens
hopes to work as an assistant trainer at the Canine Companions for Independence
national headquarters in Santa Rosa, Calif.
Before that happens, she needs to complete her own finalsn and get Rosa through
her exams. Only 30 percent of the dogs in this project do graduate. Thus far,
Jurrens is two-for-two. Rosa, who will finish her work in Onawa next month,
should make it three.
“This has helped me because I think I’ve learned to accept people with
disabilities,” says Jurrens. “We might someday have a student who benefits from
having a canine like this. It’s a good feeling to know you’re helping somebody.”
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