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Oltman Middle School welcomes Bubba the therapy dog

Bubba is not an Oltman Middle School student but when he visits four or five times a year, students treat him as a friendly student who's not at school every day.

Bubba, an American Staffordshire terrier, is a therapy dog who comes to school led by his owner, Dan Lemke, a special education teacher at the school.

Lemke found Bubba six years ago on Valentine's Day, after the dog was abandoned, Lemke said. The former owner cut off Bubba's ears and neglected him. As a dog that should have had a normal weight of 65 pounds, he weighed 32 pounds and his feet had been frozen.

His lingering issues include allergies and balance problems. but for Bubba, they are his "new normal." After a nap, Lemke said, he gets up and falls over.

But Oltman students don't notice those problems when Bubba enters their classrooms or greets them in the halls. Bubba seems friendly and they just want to pet him. He loves the attention, Lemke said.

Anthony Underhill, one of Lemke's students, said being around Bubba makes him calmer and he doesn't feel the compulsion to move around so much. Underhill's classmates Tyler Wylie and Amber Braulick also enjoy petting Bubba, who rolls on his side for belly rubs. Wylie said he found the place behind Bubba's ear that he likes the most.

After Lemke found him, he looked for someone to adopt him. He already has several dogs.

But it was Bubba's personality that compelled him to keep Bubba.

He seemed to adapt to every situation, he said, and, as a close relative of pit bulls, he was not at all aggressive toward other dogs.

Bubba welcomed attention from anyone and would let other dogs sleep on top of him.

Lemke suspected he might be a good therapy dog and both went for formal training.

During training, he was exposed to other dogs. Trainers also drop IV stands on the floor next to him to see if he'd react to loud noises and lose focus. He passed that test with flying colors, Lemke.

Officially certified as a therapy dog, Bubba is allowed in hospitals and nursing facilities. Lemke is considering a trip to Oklahoma to comfort tornado victims.

Judy Spooner
Judy Spooner is the longest-serving staff writer at the South Washington County Bulletin. Spooner, who covers education and features in addition to writing a weekly column, has been with the newspaper for over 30 years.
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