Kasey Says, a Sandoval County-born program leading Gov. Bill Richardson's anti-truancy initiative, will begin in Doña Ana County next Friday with the delivery of three seven-week-old puppies - all named Kasey.

Doña Ana County is the second county in the state to begin the Kasey Says program, only after the county in which it was created. Three Doña Ana County Sheriff's Department school resource officers will be paired with a dog to begin training and visits to schools.

Community Policing Division supervisor Marty Dudley said there are school resource officers in the northern and southern areas of the county, and Dudley covers the Las Cruces area. Each Kasey will travel with its respective officer to area schools.

Kasey Says co-creator and state coordinator Vanessa Johnston demonstrated handling and some of the curriculum to school resource officers, as five-month-old golden retriever Kasey 2 stayed at her side on Wednesday. Johnston spoke to a couple of classes at Gadsden Middle School about seat-belt usage, drugs, cigarettes, truancy and the "law block", which covers such issues as assault and battery.

"You soften your image enough [with the dog] for the child to trust you, and you're able to get your message out," Johnston said. Students to whom Johnston spoke were attentive to the presentation and to Kasey 2 afterward.

"We're really excited to help Doña Ana County get the program going," Johnston said. Sheriff [Juan] Hernandez is very progressive and innovative. He clearly sees the important role law enforcement can play in education."

For grades kindergarten through fourth, Kasey Says is primarily directed toward good effort in attendance, behavior and reading, Johnston said. Depending on class size, a teacher may choose five to ten students to spend time with and read to Kasey. These students' selection depends on their behavior.

For fourth grade and above, Johnston said, greater emphasis is put on teaching safety, the repercussions of truancy and the dangers of drug use.

"Animals are proven to enhance therapeutic and rehabilitative environments," Johnston said. "Truancy at our pilot schools has almost disappeared and there are almost no reportable offenses. There were so many success stories in Sandoval County sent to Gov. Richardson, he decided it needed to be taken statewide."

Johnston will perform a presentation Thursday at Tombaugh Elementary School at 9 a.m. with Kasey 2. Tombaugh Elementary is located at 226 Carver Rd. in Las Cruces.
For more information, call Grant A. Taylor, assistant to the director of public information, at (505) 647-7290. Anyone calling from outside the Las Cruces area may call toll-free at 1-877-827-7200 and request extension 7290.