GREEN RIDGE — Students at Green Ridge Schools began to take their state MAP Assessment tests Monday morning.
Monday afternoon they learned a lesson that is not tested on any state exam: the lessons of unconditional love and acceptance from Marshall the Miracle dog and his owner Cynthia Willenbrock.
Marshall and Willenbrock paid a visit to the students in kindergarten through sixth grade at the invitation of Green Ridge counselor Erica Goans.
“We talk pretty heavily about bullying and we want to educate our students on what it is and why it is wrong and hurtful,” Goans said. “We promote to the students the need to do the right thing and Marshall connects that to a real life situation that hopefully will bring them more awareness about the subject of bullying.”
One of Goans’s colleauges at Green Ridge, Amy Gibbs, brought the story of Marshall to Goans’s attention.
“Amy works in our special services department and three days a week she brings a therapy dog, Max, to school,” Goans said. “We started talking one day and she told me the story of Marshall and we thought his story would be something that the students could take with them and learn from.”
Marshall has a remarkable story to tell.
A 7-year-old Labrador retriever, Marshall was discovered in September 2010 by a crew filming for Animal Planet’s “Confessions: Animal Hoard.”
“Marshall was living on some abandoned property near Marshall, Missouri, along with 81 other dogs,” Willenbrock said. “He was living in dire conditions suffering from bite marks; he had a hole in his face the size of a tennis ball and he was dehydrated, malnourished and had infections throughout his body.”
A team of doctors led by Dr. Steven Schwartz, director of veterinary services at the Humane Society of Missouri, operated on Marshall in an effort to save his life.
Marshall’s heart stopped beating on the operating table multiple times and eventually his right front leg was amputated.
He was nursed back to health by the staff at the Humane Society before he was adopted and taken to his “forever home” by Willenbrock five years ago.
“I was bullied growing up,” Willenbrock told the Democrat before speaking to the students. “I related to him and those big eyes he has from the moment I saw him.
“I think he knew he had a purpose to serve and that’s why he fought so hard to survive,” Willenbrock added. “He is such a perfect example of how to celebrate others and diversity.”
Willenbrock founded the Marshall Movement, which is dedicated to teaching children and others about anti-bullying and anti-animal cruelty.
Marshall has had a movie filmed about his life, and a second is in production.
Since writing a book about Marshall, “Marshall the Miracle Dog,” Willenbrock and Marshall have traveled to 25 states and have spoken to more than 200,000 students sharing their story.
“I hope people will realize that those who are bullied are innocent victims of the cruelty and brutality of others,” Willenbrock wrote.
“I started blaming myself, I wondered if the last attack is my fault, but I didn’t do anything bad,” Willenbrock read as the voice of Marshall.
The story, told through Marshall’s eyes is a lesson that “tugs at hearts,” according to Goans.
“It’s hard not to tear up after reading the book,” Goans said. “I hope the assembly and the book touches the students in some way so that they can take something away from it to help others.
“(Marshall’s story) is such a sad situation,” Goans added. “But you realize that Marshall and Cindi were brought together for a reason.”
Willenbrock told the students something one of Marshall’s nurses told her.
“We all learned a lot about how to hold on and how to get back on your feet even when you’ve seen your darkest days,” Willenbrock read.
She continued by reading to them that, “I (Marshall) have unconditional love and acceptance exactly the way I am.”
That was one of the primary lessons Goans was hoping the students would take away from the assembly.
“We have such a great community and wonderful students at Green Ridge,” Goans said “They can’t be perfect every day and we know that, but we encourage them to do their best and make the right choices.”
Individuals wishing to contact Willenbrock about The Marshall Movement may do so at www.marshallthemiracledog.com.
Hope Lecchi can be reached at 660-826-1000 1484