CRESTVIEW — Fans of Dozer, a well-known therapy dog, will no longer see the Great Dane on Okaloosa County school campuses.
A new blanket ban on animal visits ends Dozer's two years of regular visits to North Okaloosa elementary school libraries. Students who met their reading goals by completing at least 11 books on their logs could read to him as a reward.
Nick Kootsouradis, Okaloosa's assistant superintendent, said he denied this year’s request as a matter of fairness. “I am trying to be consistent,” he said. “I’m denying others, whether it’s the (Emerald Coast) Wildlife Refuge or many other groups that want to bring animals on campus.
"If I let Dozer in, the people who were denied would say, ‘Well, what’s the difference?’ and we’d get into splitting hairs.”
The ban promotes students' and staffers' safety, Kootsouradis said. “As well-trained as animals are, sometimes they are unpredictable,” he said. “And you have the allergies issue.”
Dozer’s owner, Angie Nousiainen, said as many as 35 students would read to the dog during a typical visit to Northwood Arts and Science Academy's library.
Children may find it easier to read aloud to a non-judgmental service dog that won’t correct them for pronunciation mistakes or stumbling over words, Nousiainen said.
In September 2014, Friends of the Crestview Library recognized Dozer for his contributions to childhood literacy and for helping youngsters learn to interact with animals.
Kootsouradis encouraged students who enjoy reading to Dozer to continue to do so at the community library.
“We don’t stop kids from visiting animals off-campus,” he said.