A dog day at Glacial Drumlin School is a good day with Rocky | local education
PAMELA COTANT For the State Journal
Students and staff weren’t the only ones returning when Glacial Drumlin School in Cottage Grove resumed in-person learning in the fall.
Rocky, a 10-year-old lab mix, greets students in the hallway again as the hour passes, then spends the rest of the day in Moe Freesemann’s seventh-grade English class.
The students greet him, then Rocky moves into the room. He attracts a lot of attention when the students drop a hand to pet him as he walks past their desks.
“It gives you a sense of calm (and) something nice to cuddle when you walk in if you’re having a rough day,” said seventh-grader Jaxon Palermo.
Freesemann turned to the idea of bringing in a therapy dog when she noticed more anxiety among students over the past four or five years compared to when she started her 12 years of teaching.
“I noticed that many of our students had needs that went beyond the curriculum and what I could give them in terms of emotional support,” she said. “I know I’m an animal lover and had heard of groups that would certify dogs as therapy dogs.”
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Freesemann knew she had the right dog for the job.
“Rocky just has such a temper for it,” she said. “I’ve had a lot of dogs but he’s very calm and has always been that way.”
He started coming to the school in 2018. But there was a long period of online learning where students didn’t have access to him.
“Rocky is more important than ever at school,” Freesemann said. “Some of our students hadn’t set foot in a classroom in a year and a half, and having the unconditional love and joy of an animal in the classroom has really helped some of them make the transition.”
Rocky comes once a week, and while all the attention wears him out, he enjoys it, Freesemann said.
“I take his vest out in the morning and he goes wild,” said Freesemann, known as the “dog teacher.”
Rocky is a rescue from Tennessee, where he was found on the street as a stray. When Freesemann heard of him, he was maybe 18 months old and had been in a shelter for nine months. He had a number of bald spots where his fur hadn’t grown back after recovering from mange – a skin disease caused by mites – and he was really thin.
“I sat down on the floor and he crawled into my lap,” said Freesemann, who also appreciates Rocky’s soothing spirit.
Freesemann said Rocky’s signature look was wearing a bow tie and he had over 100 different ones made by his mother.
Seventh graders Nola Benson and Luci Colwin are unofficial members of Rocky’s fan club. They both have dogs at home that they miss while at school, so Rocky helps fill that void.
“Whenever I feel stressed or confused, I go to see Rocky, or he comes up to me and makes me feel more relaxed,” Nola said. “His kind (and) gentle eyes look at me like he’s saying he believes in me.”
Luci said Rocky made everyone’s day.
“Everyone’s been under a lot of stress because of the pandemic and everything that’s happened,” Luci said. “He helps everyone release stress and be happier.”
Students with special needs will come to Freesemann’s classroom if they’re having a tough day because of its “anchoring” effect, Freesemann said. Staff members will also stop by if they need an emotional boost.
“Seeing Rocky is like exhaling after a week of holding my breath. I love my job, and it can also be incredibly stressful,” said Peg Zizmann, a school counselor who regularly stops in to visit Rocky. “Dogs provide… unconditional love. He inspires me to lead with gentle empathy for those around me.
Just knowing that Rocky is here at school is a comfort, Zizmann said. She wishes he could be at school every day.
“I’m a school counselor and I can’t overstate the mental health benefits of having Rocky here,” she said.