Elementary Students Persuade School to Adopt a “Buddy”
From students to teachers, Buddy the dog knows just how to brighten everyone’s day.
Reeths-Puffer + Buddy
First graders at a Michigan elementary school used a class exercise in “persuasive writing” to convince school administrators to adopt a school pet. The students wrote letters to their principal, citing evidence on why dogs are important for kids and the benefits of dogs in schools. Their plan worked and Buddy arrived at the school, adopted by vice principal, Karyn. Buddy has turned out to be the perfect dog for the school, somehow knowing what the students and teachers alike might need. Today, Buddy brightens many lives at the Title I school. Buddy helps calm escalated students, cheers up teachers and provides comfort when he’s needed most. The students wanted a dog…but Buddy was more than they could have hoped for.
"When Buddy comes in, the students melt in a matter of minutes. When students are depressed, Buddy instinctively goes to them and lies next to them or brings them a toy to play. He is trained to stay at my side as his handler; however, when he senses a need in another, he is drawn to the person's side and provides comfort simply by being there."
In 2018, our first-grade students wrote letters to our building principal and me asking for a school pet: specifically, a dog. They cited evidence on why dogs are important for kids, which led to further research about the benefits of pets and kids, and articles about therapy dogs in schools. I knew in my heart it was what our school needed. At the end of the school year, I went to the Humane Society to speak with them about the possibility of finding a dog that would be a great school therapy dog. Our dog would need to be hypoallergenic, small in nature but not fragile, playful, quiet, and excellent with kids, people and other dogs.
I went to the shelter several times, bringing my own kids and co-workers. We went to Grand Rapids shelters. We even thought of buying a puppy from a breeder. I felt that adopting was the route to take because the story would make an easier connection for our kids in crisis or trauma.
Then I received a phone call about Buddy. I learned that Buddy had been returned twice to the shelter. To say I was a little hesitant about him was an understatement. We went to visit Buddy — and he was perfect. Getting Buddy into our school was quite a process: basic commands training (with the help of the trainer at the Humane Society); therapy dog training and certification; permission from our Board of Education; and buy in from staff and parents.
We have a large (650+) needy student population. We qualify as a Title 1 school, in which 40 percent of youth are from low-income homes. We are a trauma-informed school (many of our kids have significantly high ACES scores) and we serve students with diverse learning needs. Buddy has been an integral part of our “support team,” providing therapy to students when needed. He is used as a reading Buddy, a comfort to those who are sad or upset. He barks/chirps kids out of escalation, he cheers up teachers who have had a rough moment and supports our school-wide Positive Behavioral Interventions and Supports (PBIS) initiative. We have some highly aggressive students who have elaborate behavior plans. When their behaviors would escalate, our masters-level staff were often unable to de-escalate them in a timely manner. But when Buddy comes in, the students just melt in a matter of minutes. When students are depressed, Buddy instinctively goes to them and lies next to them or brings them a toy to play. He is trained to stay at my side as his handler; however, when he senses a need in another, he is drawn to the person’s side and provides comfort simply by being there.
Buddy has started a movement in our district and we now have therapy dogs in three of our six buildings. I am forever thankful for the families who chose to bring Buddy back to the shelter. He was meant to serve. He was meant to be a Reeths-Puffer Rocket.
Each year, the Petco Foundation invites adopters to share the story of how their adopted pet changed their lives during the annual Holiday Wishes campaign, giving the organization that they adopted from a chance to receive a grant award. This story by Karyn won The Humane Society and Animal Rescue of Muskegon County in Muskegon, Michigan a 2019 Holiday Wishes award.