In stressful time for kids and adults, Prairie Elementary in Shawnee Mission gets first-ever emotional support dog

Prairie Elementary dog

Prairie Elementary's newest addition to the Panther family is Daisy Mae, a Great Pyrenees and collie mix rescue therapy dog, who is at school each day to provide emotional support to kids (and adults). Above, Daisy Mae and Drew, a Prairie Elementary student.

When Prairie Elementary special education teacher Allie Tadokoro received a Warrior’s Best Friend postcard in her school mailbox, she knew she couldn’t ignore it.

The Liberty, Mo.-based nonprofit normally trains service dogs to provide emotional support for veterans, but it also runs Operation Schoolhouse, a program that trains a couple of dogs each year specifically for schools.

Tadokoro asked Prairie principal Kristen Jones if she’d support applying for an Operation Schoolhouse grant.

Daisy Mae looks at children playing
The father and daughter who trained Daisy Mae also trained four other dogs and allowed Tadokoro to see which would fit best in her home, as she’s Daisy Mae’s primary handler. Tadokoro took her own dog to meet the options, and Daisy Mae was the perfect fit, she said. Above, Daisy Mae looks out her classroom window at children playing.

Jones checked with the district about protocol and found out as long as no school money was used to purchase a facility dog, it was alright.

Tadokoro then reached out to a parent, who helped raise $3,400 — nearly $1,000 more than was needed — in 48 hours.

Six months later, Prairie Elementary has welcomed Daisy Mae, a year-and-a-half old Great Pyrenese and Border Collie rescue, to campus.

“When I got the postcard, I was like, this is far-fetched, this is a dream I’ve had and I don’t know if it’s going to work out,” Tadokoro said. “Then everything fell into place: we have someone who is married to a vet, Kristen was on board, parents donated within 48 hours. Everything fell into place, and then we got the best dog ever.”

Daisy Mae’s duties

Daisy Mae will act as an emotional therapy dog for students.

She knows 14 different commands, such as “comfort,” in which she nestles next to a person, providing deep pressure on their legs to help with anxiety.

She also knows “make a friend,” which signals Daisy Mae to slowly greet someone who may be a little afraid or tentative.

Daisy Mae meets a kindergarten student
Daisy Mae is still getting used to her new job, but in her first week of school she’s officially met all of her fellow Panthers, Tadokoro said. Above, a kindergarten student pets Daisy Mae for the first time.

In the coming months, Tadokoro said she hopes to include Daisy Mae in counseling lessons, library time and one-on-one meetings with social workers.

For now, Daisy Mae will continue to hang out in Tadokoro’s classroom and listen to children read or keep them company during class.

‘Brings everybody’s stress level down’

While Tadokoro works with students with Down Syndrome, anxiety, ADHD and those who are on the autism spectrum, she said Daisy Mae can help all students — and staff.

“She’s such a calm dog, I feel like she brings everybody’s stress level down — even mine,” Tadokoro said.

The additional funds raised to apply to get Daisy Mae allowed Jones and Tadokoro (Daisy Mae’s primary handler) to buy enough food for a year and all the additional supplies Daisy Mae needs.

Brock Exline, a vet at Kansas City Veterinary Care who is married to a first grade teacher at Prairie Elementary, offered pro-bono care for Daisy Mae for life.

When the need for more food, supplies or anything else comes up, Jones said it’s likely that Prairie will seek donations from the community.

Still, Jones said she thinks getting a therapy dog is possible in any district building, even if at first it may seem like something that would not get approved or funded.

“It just goes to show that, you know, no matter what there’s a way to get through things,” Jones said. “You just have to have a team effort.”