LHS Mourns Loss Of Madison The Therapy Dog
The Lakewood High School community suffered a tremendous loss on April 27 when Madison the Therapy Dog passed away. Madison had been a staff member at LHS for five years, working with Julie Koponiski, her owner. Koponiski is an Intervention Specialist in the school’s Reading Lab, which serves students grade 9-12 who are in Individualized Education Programs (IEPs). Madison has helped hundreds of kids over the years by relieving stress, encouraging student interaction and facilitating calming in the classroom.
Madson’s amazing story began over eight years ago. On December 11, 2008 Konopinski was driving on Detroit Avenue in Cleveland. She saw a frantic stray dog running close to West Blvd. “I turned my car around to go look for her, and she was gone. I drove up and down nearby streets, until I saw her.” The dog had gone south on West Boulevard to Madison Avenue. “When her eyes met mine, she bolted across the street to me. She was sideswiped by a car, hurling her body across the street.” Julie and her husband examined the dog, who luckily was not hurt. They took her home and decided to call her “Madison” the name of the street where she was found.
Julie recognized that Madison had many traits to become a therapy dog. She pursued therapy dog certification through Therapy Dog International, an organization dedicated to the regulating, testing, and registration of therapy dogs. Julie and Madison participated in six weeks of training. The certification involved passing 15 different tests. Madison passed with flying colors. A few months later, she was accepted by Lakewood City Schools as the first therapy dog at Lakewood High School. Konopinski credits former LHS Principal William Wagner with helping make Madison’s role possible. Current Principal Keith Ahearn also embraced Madison.
Madison became a fixture at LHS, coming to work daily and interacting with the staff and students. A few weeks ago Koponiski noticed that Madison wasn’t feeling quite right. Veterinary tests eventually discovered that Madison had developed a brain tumor. She died on the morning of April 27, a Thursday. Koponiski, deeply attached to Madison as both a pet and co-worker, didn’t come into work that day or the following. The next Monday she broke the news to her students.
The news quickly spread throughout the LHS community, triggering an outpouring of calls, text messages, emails, cards, and letters. Koponiski, who herself was still grieving, found comfort in the support. “Seeing how much she touched so many people here,” she said, “it’s like I’m grieving with hundreds of people." Some of the messages reflected the deep impact Madison had on some students’ lives. "One kid wrote that Madison was the first friend they made at Lakewood High,” said Koponiski. For some of the students, this is their first experience dealing with death. “I’m trying to be a healthy role model for grief,” said Koponiski.
A Madison memorial board was placed in the Reading Lab. It has many of the notes, pictures, and even original artwork done by students to remember their canine friend. The tributes continue to roll in for Madison. Mr. Ahearn is having a plaque made in Madison’s honor so that future students will know her story. A collection is taking place to have a dogwood tree planted on the LHS grounds in Madison’s honor. A memorial service is also being considered.
Some have already asked if there will be a new therapy dog at the LHS Reading Lab in the future. No decisions have been made on that, as everyone is still processing the loss of Madison. If you’d like to learn more or see tributes to Madison, visit her on Twitter and Instagram @barkingranger.
Mike Deneen has extensive experience covering sports and community stories for the Lakewood Observer. Mike has been a Senior Industry Analyst for the Freedonia Group in Cleveland, Ohio, since 1998. He has appeared on CNBC’s Closing Bell, NPR’s MarketPlace and has been quoted multiple times in The Wall Street Journal. He has made multiple guest appearances on ESPN Cleveland radio. Mike also writes for Inside Northwestern, a website that covers Northwestern Wildcat Athletics. You can reach him on Twitter at @MikeDeneen1