In School Bus Fleet’s February issue, we ran a story on tips for effectively transporting service animals. Sources for the story said that establishing who is responsible for the animal (typically, the student), and reviewing the loading process and emergency procedures as far in advance as possible, are key. Additionally, any changes to accommodate passengers with allergies to or a fear of dogs must be made to their schedule or bus, not to those of the student who needs the service animal.
However, one other issue that came up that didn’t make it into the story, due to space constraints, was the benefit of improved student behavior that one school bus driver experienced, not just for the student being helped by his service dog, but on all the students.
When Linda Lafontaine, a former school bus driver for Southland Transportation in Calgary, Alberta, took over a special-needs route years ago, she didn’t know she would be transporting a service dog, or that he would have such a profound impact on the behavior of the 50 students aboard the bus.
When she came in halfway through the school year, she met 8-year-old Cody, who was partially blind. His service dog, a German shepherd named Max, made sure he got where he needed to go.
Lafontaine learned the commands to cue Max to help Cody board the bus and get to his seat. She gave the dog his own cushion, so that if she had to hit the brakes, he was protected.
“He would get comfortable and sit in such a way that we would see his head above the seat,” she recalls.
The students were impressed that this boy could control this dog, but they didn’t realize that the dog was controlling him, Lafontaine says. “It was amazing to watch.”
Once, when a fight broke out in the middle of the bus, Max got agitated.
“I said, ‘What’s wrong, Max? What do you need to do?’ Suddenly, he broke up the fight. He went between the two [students] and sat down and looked at both of them like, 'enough.' They both looked at him and said ‘OK. We’re going to sit.’ Once the kids learned that Max didn’t like the fight, they all behaved. It was like having an aide on the bus.”
Is there anyone else out there who had a service animal aboard their bus and noticed how student behavior was impacted? Please let us know in the comments section below.