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April 17, 2015

Lovable dog serves as 'substitute teacher' for special-needs students

Pup can detect rising stress levels

A North Jersey school employs a special "substitute teacher" who is welcomed and loved by students.

Service dogs Cali and Cleo work five days a week, seven hours each day at The Calais Schoola state-approved school for special-needs kids in Whippany, Morris County. Like most full-time employees, they welcome a break once in a while.

That's where Savannah comes in. The Rhodesian ridgeback works as a substitute for the two four-legged staffers, reports.

"Some schools with a special-needs population have service dogs that visit and work with the students as a once-in-a-while activity," David Leitner, executive director of The Calais School, told "We thought having a service dog on staff would benefit our students."

Like Cali and Cleo, the 2 1/2-year-old dog, was brought to the school from Merlin's Kids, a Midland Park-based nonprofit that trains service dogs to work with children with special needs. 

Cali, a Rhodesian ridgeback, is the first, and currently the only, full-time cortisol detection dog on staff at a school in the country. Cortisol, also known as the stress hormone, rises in our bodies when we become anxious. She can sniff out a meltdown before it occurs. Savannah also has been trained to detect rising cortisol levels.

The dogs help keep students relaxed. This summer, Savannah will join Cali and Cleo for the extended school year.

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