Nova, a Labrador retriever, is part of the safety team at St. Ignace Area Schools

Students in St. Ignace Area Schools have likely noticed a few new faces roaming the halls this semester, looking to make friends.

The district is the first in the Upper Peninsula to welcome a Zebra K9 safety team -- a dog and handler. They're on hand every school hour to offer the combined emotional support of a friendly puppy with the physical security afforded by a firearms and explosives detector— that dog’s sensitive nose.

An innovative approach to security: St. Ignace is the sixth school district in Michigan to contract with Zebra K9 safety dog services of Waterford to employ a full-time, onsite, Zebra K9 safety dog team. While her primary focus is firearm and explosives detection, Nova, a one-year-old female Labrador retriever, also provides a unique opportunity for students and staff to interact with a friendly young dog during school hours. With her handler, Jessica Myjak, Nova will be working at LaSalle High School and St. Ignace Elementary and Middle School throughout the day.

LaSalle High School student interacts with Nova and K9 Team handler Jessica Myjak.The St. Ignace School District has two schools, with 287 students enrolled in the lower grades and a high school with 209 students.

“It was really great to see our high school students enter the building and experience this safety and security enhancement for the first time,” says Superintendent Kari Visnaw. “We look forward to a continued partnership with Zebra K9, working together to create a learning environment where students and staff feel safe, secure, and supported throughout their time in our school district.”

Greg Guidice, founder, president and CEO of Zebra K9, says the placement is a full-time position, and Myjak and Nova are in the school every hour the students are there. “Superintendent Visnaw is taking innovative, proactive steps to further create a safe learning environment for her teachers and students,” he says.

What does Nova’s job entail: In each school district that uses a Zebra K9 team, the school superintendent determines the specifics of how to introduce the safety dog team to students and staff. “Generally speaking,” Guidice says, “the first couple of days are spent visiting with the students in the hallways and classrooms, encouraging them to pet and get to know their new safety dog. Then, in the following days, the students are instructed to ask the handler if they may pet the safety dog.”
The safety dog team patrols the entire school day. Emotional support is provided as needed. Guidice says the presence of the safety dog teams create a proactive, visual and word-of-mouth deterrent that discourages potential threats in school buildings. Students know that Nova has been trained to detect firearms, ammunition and explosives whether they are hidden in a backpack, purse, bag, waistband, jacket or locker.

Nova checks out a student at LaSalle High School.If Nova detects a suspicious odor, she alerts her handler with a passive sit, and Myjak then follows the school district's emergency policies and procedures. 

Unlike traditional security measures that are largely reactionary, Guidice says, the full-time safety dog teams actively work to dissuade incidents from happening in the first place.

How much does this service cost: The cost of a safety dog team varies according to the number of hours the team is in school and any after-school activities that the team has been contracted for. Zebra K9’s services are an eligible expense with Michigan school aid funding 31aa for improved school safety and mental health. 

How’s it working out so far: Since launching in July 2023, Zebra K9 is now in six Michigan school districts, representing 40 schools. In St. Ignace, “we could not ask for a better partnership,” Guidice says. “Mrs. Visnaw and her staff are a pleasure to work with.” Client confidentiality rules bar him from saying whether Nova has detected any trouble, he says, “but we can tell you that Nova is doing what she has been hired to do.”

More about Zebra K9: Zebra K9 provides full-time onsite K9 teams to schools, hospitals, businesses and events with a mission to protect people in the communities in which they live, work and play through the provision of superior K9 teams. Zebra K9’s team has decades of law enforcement K9 training, patrol and leadership experience. The team has trained and managed hundreds of explosives and narcotics-detection canines and K9 teams and have provided security for a range of clients ranging from world presidents to school students. 

For more information about Zebra K9 or to request a demonstration, visit or email 

 Rosemary Parker has worked as a writer and editor for more than 40 years. She is a regular contributor to Rural Innovation Exchange, UPword and other Issue Media Group publications. 
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