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Geneseo Republic - Geneseo, IL
  • Retired Geneseo school therapy dog dies

  • For hundreds of Geneseo elementary school students, therapy dog, Rock, was a familiar sight.
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  • For hundreds of Geneseo elementary school students, therapy dog, Rock, was a familiar sight.
    However, on July 13, the black lab, who was just three months shy of his 17 birthday, suffered a stroke and passed away shortly thereafter.
    Rock lived with Bill and Dee Menendez of Geneseo and their two children, Katherine and Tom.
    Rock spent 12 years working at Southwest and Millikin elementary schools alongside Bill, who served as principal at the schools.
    When Bill retired, Rock also retired from his school visits, but that didn't stop the dog from being active in the community.
    Every Thursday, Rock would visit the Geneseo Public Library for its "Paw-Some Readers Program" in which children were encouraged to read to the dog.
    Rock also visited residents at WoodRidge Supportive Living and Hammond-Henry Hospital's Long-Term Care Unit.
    Though Bill said he'd had dogs when he was a child, he'd not had a dog as an adult.
    In 1999, though, with the support of then-Geneseo superintendent Dr. Harold Ford, Bill wrote an application for a therapy dog.
    Bill had learned of the benefits of having a therapy dog at school in the late 1990s, and visited some schools in Iowa that used the animals.
    "Rock was 3 when I got him through a center for training and placement of service dogs, CARES, located Concordia, Kan." he said.
    Rock had initially been trained as a service dog by inmates at Ellsworth Correctional Facility in Kansas.
    "I remember the day I got him. We were in a big room and they brought in 14 dogs and assigned one to each of us," said Bill.
    Dogs at the training center were assigned names based on their training group.
    "The group before had each dog named after a city in Colorado," said Bill.
    For Rock's group, each dog was given a name ending in "Man."
    "He was 'Rock Man' and others were 'Law Man,' 'Gambling Man' and 'Rambling Man,'" explained Bill.
    Though technically "Rock Man," in Geneseo, the dog was just known as "Rock."
    "Although the kids had all sorts of nicknames for him, they called him 'Rocky' or 'Rocco,'" explained Bill.
    Rock's day at school was pretty "free lance," Bill said, adding that Rock was allowed to go anywhere in the school building as well as on the playground.
    "But he also knew his boundaries, and when I gave a hand signal that meant 'no,' Rock did not enter that area."
    Even though Rock was an easy-going, friendly "guy," Bill said, "He really did not like police because when they brought their K-9 dog to school, he was pretty jealous. From that day on, whenever he saw a police car he'd bark at it."
    Page 2 of 2 - As a therapy dog, "Rock had a calming influence on the kids," said Bill. "He also provided a tie between school and home. Kids would say, 'My aunt has a dog like Rock,' or 'We had a dog like Rock.'"
    Bill said, "Rock's years at Southwest and Millikin were filled with joy and treats. Many children loved him and made sure they interacted with him on a daily basis. It can truly be said that Rock never met a child he didn't love. He also loved the teachers and the treats they gave him."
    The bond between Rock and students continued throughout his life.
    "I had kids in their 20s who asked about Rock when they saw me," Bill said. "He was another avenue of opening a door between me and the student population."
    Shortly after his retirement, Bill recalls being on a walk with Rock when two young girls on bikes passed by.
    "I heard one say to the other, 'Do you know who that is?' I thought it was nice they remembered me, but then the other said, 'Yeah, that's Rock.' It really took the wind out of my sails," joked Bill.
    During his weekly visit to the Geneseo Public Library, Rock was able to listen to numerous stories read to him by children and adults.
    "Rock didn't care if they got the words wrong," said Bill. "Rock had a calming influence on kids and adults. Those who may not have read out loud before would feel comfortable lying beside Rock and reading."
    Though he died on Saturday, Rock worked until the end, having joined children for a 'Paw-Some Reading' program on Thursday.
    After suffering his stroke, Rock was assisted at the end of his life by Dr. Dana Miller, who called the black lab a "one-of-a-kind dog."
    As much as Rock was a therapy dog in the school district and community, he also was a family pet, and Bill and Dee said making the phone calls to their children to share news of Rock's death was "very difficult."
    "They loved him. He definitely was a family member," said Bill.

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