SPARTA, NJ - Sparta High School's newest staff member is currently undergoing training and is due to join the team sometime before the end of the school year.  Melvin has some important work to do as he is prepared to step in to the role of therapy dog for the students and staff at the school. 

Like any loved one, Franc will never be replaced.  Franc and his companion Stanley were hit by a car just before the school went on spring break.  Franc was killed and Stanley was seriously injured.  Stanley has been seen in the building following surgery repair extensive injuries to his face.

Their handler Guidance Director Kacey Dalton said she is not yet certain whether Stanley will be able to continue his work as a therapy dog at the high school and middle school.

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Students at Sparta High School have jumped into action to do what they can to help with the situation. They have a number of fundraisers planned to help with the costs.  According to Dalton the cost of Stanley’s operation was $6,900.  Melvin cost $3,000. In addition,  "the training winds up being roughly $1,000 after the various obedience and then Therapy Dog certifications he has to achieve, “ Dalton said. 

Video of the new therapy dog Melvin in training

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The students held a Free Throw for Franc basketball fundraiser during their Safestock event on Thursday, April 13. Organized by Evan Marcino, students could take four foul shots for a one dollar donation.  Marcino said they raised more than $100.

Senior Andrew Lopuch is heading up a concert in the park as another opportunity to raise funds The concert is scheduled for May 19 at Dykstra Park the outdoor stage behind Mohawk Avenue School and the Sparta library park.  The rain date is May 25.  Student bands will be invited to play.  So far The Night Shift in scheduled to play. 

Tickets are being sold to the students during lunch this week for $5 each.

Currently the event is for Sparta High School students, though Lopuch said they are considering opening it up to the community.

Marcino and other seniors have started a GoFund me page, also seeking donations for the therapy dog program. 

Dalton brought the idea of having a therapy dog program to the Sparta school district's administrators in 2013.  As with any new program it was initially met with some skepticism, though she said Dr. Daniel Johnson told her to “Write it up Kace.”  Together with guidance counselor Katie Flannelly, Dalton doggedly pursued the initiative researching other programs and dogs, to present to the board of education curriculum committee.   

With the board’s approval, the real work began.  She got Franc as an eight-week-old puppy from Fantasia Frenchies in Pottstown, PA. Franc then had to go through boot camp obedience training 1 and 2. Any question about the initiative were immediately forgotten.  With his first appearance at the school during the summer, Franc instantly became part of the school family.  Franc was then sent to a five-week training program to become a service dog. 

Students seeking help with anxiety, stress or other emotional situations are often calmed by the dogs. French Bulldogs are almost one hundred percent hypo allergenic for dander and saliva, according to Dalton.  They love to be cuddled, are on the smaller side and a tad lazy she said.  They also have a “comical look which never ceases to bring a smile to passerby’s faces."

It was so successful that Stanley was soon added to the family.  The program was expanded to the middle school where Stanley worked with the Life Skills students.

"I didn't realize how important Franc had become to the students, unfortunately, until he died," Dalton said.  "The outpouring was overwhelming."

Dalton's office is filled with flowers, balloons and cards.  "[Principal] Janet Ferraro said we needed to treat this as if a person from the school had died," Dalton said.  "She was right.  We brought in counselors for students and even staff members who had come to rely on Franc."

As if on cue, during the interview with TAP a student walked in with a flowering plant and a card, "just because," she said.  The card was signed by a number of students.   Stanley lay in his crate near Dalton's desk and lifted his head as the student walked in making her smile. 

“The students and parents are truly incredible,” Dalton said.  “I am humbled at how successful this program has become.”