One Dog's Passing Highlights the Benefits of Therapy Dogs in Schools

As part of our focus on working dogs and cats this month, I was reminded yesterday how far reaching the benefits of therapy dogs are when the new that Brutus, our kids' school principal's boxer, passed away over the weekend. Brutus was more than a pet, he was a therapy dog who helped with many of the children at that school.

In an excerpt from our principal's letter to parents:

It is with a very heavy heart that I write to inform you all that our dog, Brutus, passed away over the weekend.  This was unexpected and, as you can imagine, has been heartbreaking for my family.  I am so grateful that over the past 3 years, Brutus also became part of the Gurney family. However, we always knew that the challenge of adding Brutus to our Gurney family would be that at some point we’d have to inform students of his passing. My hope was to have his younger brother, Woody (currently 18 months old), completely trained and credentialed through Therapy Dog International by the end of this school year so that we could phase Brutus out as he aged.  Unfortunately, Brutus left us much earlier than ever expected.

Credentialed through Therapy Dog International, Brutus filled many roles at Gurney.  Most commonly, individuals and groups of students enjoyed reading to him.

Some students read to Brutus as practice – they may have been English Language Learners or at-risk readers but, Brutus never criticized. Some groups practiced their Readers’ Theater performances in front of him before they felt ready to perform to their class.  Other students had already practiced and wanted to do their best reading for their visit with Brutus.

Students with autism, Downs Syndrome, and other disabilities practiced communication skills such as good eye contact and clear articulation by making Brutus practice his obedience commands and some fun tricks. 

Students who needed additional, purposeful movement during the day had jobs related to taking care of Brutus such as refilling his water bowl or brushing him.  Some students working very hard on self-control would work even harder when visiting with Brutus was the reward. For students with diagnosed anxiety conditions, time petting Brutus worked better than medicine.

Of course, Brutus was always looking for opportunities to visit classrooms so that we could share one of his favorite stories, kids could share stories they had written about him, or he could simply give some high-fives for working hard.  Brutus even had his own bulletin board on which students posted pictures and poems they made about him. 

When I reflect on this long list of Brutus’ contributions to the special culture we have at [school], it is heartwarming to know how much we all valued him. 

 She goes on to describe how they are handling the news at school and closes out with:

Again, I sincerely thank you all for allowing Brutus to become such a beloved member of our [school] family.  He taught us more about the benefits of a therapy dog in a school than we had ever predicted.  He will be greatly missed.

I know I felt comfort seeing Brutus in the front office wanting to say hello to anyone that came in and shed a tear at the news he has moved over the Rainbow Bridge.

Perhaps more schools should have a Brutus of their own to benefit both parents and children. What do you think? 

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Helping Working Dogs and Cats
One Dog's Passing Highlights the Benefits of Therapy Dogs in Schools


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