Growing up on the Westside with three brothers, former WC math teacher Sandy Golembiewski (affectionately known as Miss G) always had dogs in her life. “I got my first dog, Tiger when I was 13.” But her dad had many dogs before she acquired Tiger. “Once he won a dog/owner look-alike contest with his pug,” she chuckled.
Tiger – a mutt – lived for 16 years. When Miss G returned to Grand Rapids after teaching for a few years at Portland St. Patrick High School, she acquired her next dog Molly – a rescue who also lived to 16. “I have always been good with dogs, so I naturally always wanted one around.” Next came Lacey, a golden retriever mix with a sweet personality. “Lacey lived to 15, and it was then I thought I might want to get a dog that I could train to be a therapy dog,” she added.
She acquired Josie, a golden retriever, from a breeder in February 2018, and began the process of training her for service. “I googled ‘therapy dogs’ and found the website for West Michigan Therapy Dogs, Inc. (WMTD), and contacted them as to how to get involved.” At first Miss G just took Josie to regular dog obedience classes at pet stores. “There she learned socialization and behavior training. When she was 2 1/2 years old, we entered the eight-week training session at WMTD, where Josie earned her therapy vest.”
Miss G and Josie have started their service to the community. “We have already visited St. Ann’s Home and have participated in ‘Ruff Readers’, a school program helping students gain confidence in their reading by reading aloud to a dog.” While the program is meant to be done in person – with the child, dog and trainer sitting together – it is still virtual because of the pandemic. “We eventually want to also visit more nursing homes, schools and hospitals, especially the Helen DeVos Children’s Hospital.”
For the time being, Miss G will split her time between tutoring math at West, and taking Josie to stints in therapy. “I have taught or tutored math here for 49 years, and when it’s time to move on, Josie and I will do more therapy.
“In a way, I don’t know who benefits more, me or the people we visit. I got satisfaction from teaching students math, and now see satisfaction in another form when Josie lays her head in a child’s lap or an elderly person pets her. That will be my new job.”
— By Gerri Wesorick, Editor of The Westword
*This article first appeared in the Fall 2021 issue of The Westword.