Dogs Brighten Lives at St. Joseph’s Indian School

Posted on: April 6, 2022

It isn’t every day or everywhere that a person gets to bring their best friend to work to help brighten the day and lighten the load. But houseparents at St. Joseph’s Indian School have been doing just that since 2017, when the HAPI Homes (Houseparents and Pets in Homes) launched. Currently, ten best-friend dogs are in the program, and four more are slated to complete the training and certification this week.

This program is not without cultural roots for the students. Before the widespread acquisition of horses, the šúŋka (dog) held a prominent place in Lakota society – pulling the travois (sled) laden with the spoils of the hunt or the teepee during a camp move, watching over children at play, providing warm snuggles during cold nights and acting as camp sentinels.

The role of the HAPI Home dog is more focused on companionship and the benefits it provides to the students. Research has shown that the emotional support of a loving pet enhances psychological growth, improves social skills, boosts self-esteem and reduces anxiety – all factors that increase overall academic achievement. Students also benefit from learning to groom and care for the dogs.

Indeed, Maija Davlouros, who coordinates the school’s program, excitedly shares positive outcomes she has witnessed first-hand – the reserved child brought out of her shell by the social presence of a dog in the home, the frightened boy who slept more readily after “Sarge” cased his bedroom and found it safe, the high school girl who found a listening canine ear after a tough day at school – simple but powerful testimonies to what can happen when humankind’s best friend comes to work.

To “attend,” dogs and their best friends (houseparents) have to complete training on safety and other topics. Dogs undergo Canine Good Citizen testing by a certified dog trainer through Nerdy K9 Academy, and houseparents must show that their pet’s shot record is up-to-date.

Canine companions are welcome all over campus, with the exception of the Health Center, Dining Hall, Rec Center and Development Offices. (Only service dogs are allowed at the Aktá Lakota Museum.) “This is a very good thing,” said Davlouros. St. Joseph’s Indian School – changing the meaning of “It’s a dog’s life,” one canine at a time.