By COLLEEN MCCARTHY
If you’ve been to Sudduth Elementary recently, you may have noticed a new face — one covered in white fur with a wet nose and floppy ears.
That’s B.J., the 6-month-old Bichon Frise puppy who has a very special job at the elementary school. He is the school’s new therapy dog.
Principal Lisa Thompson got the puppy after learning how therapy dogs can help children with a variety of behavioral, emotional or learning problems.
“I talked to the counselors about it and they liked the idea. My task was then to try to find the breed that would be safe with this many children and that I could tolerate in my home,” she said.
After some research, she settled on the Bichon Frise because they are hypoallergenic, have a good temperament and won’t get very big. A few weeks later, she adopted B.J. and started bringing him to school when school started in August. In just a few months, this little dog has made a big impact on some students’ lives.
Each morning, a small group of students comes to Thompson’s office to see B.J. Some have a history of behavioral problems, others are working on their confidence and some just need a little bit of extra attention.
While each student comes for a different reason, B.J. seems to know exactly what each child needs: He’ll run up to some students, jump in their laps and lick their faces, and for others he’ll sit and allow the student to come to him.
First grade teacher Emily Grady said she has seen a huge change in her student Jaquaries Boyd since he started coming to B.J. on a daily basis.
“B.J. has been a wonderful example just to show kindness and be loving and just to build his confidence. He gets to come in every morning and read with Ms. Thompson and get the reward of playing with B.J.,” Grady said. “His confidence, especially in math, has come out tremendously. It’s helped with all subjects.”
Boyd spends some time each morning sitting on the floor with B.J., petting him and reading to him. It gives him some quiet time to relax and allows Thompson to check in with him to see how he is doing.
“This is Jaquaries’ third year here. Before B.J., very rarely did I see him smile. But look at him now! Jaquarious is very special to me, very close to my heart, simply because of what he’s going through,” Thompson said. “He has a special set of circumstances in his life and so Ms. Grady has been super, super wonderful with him. His personality, his demeanor, his behavior and grades have all improved.”
Boyd said he likes coming to school a lot more now. He is just one of the success stories at Sudduth, and Thompson said she hopes to see him continue to grow.
“We’re really proud of him. We just hope this wonderful experience will carry over. We’ve got one more year with him, so we’re just hoping the gains that he has made will continue on,” she said. “He’ll have B.J. for another year and hopefully by that time his confidence will be high enough that he can soar without us.”
There are four students who are regular visitors, but other students are welcome to stop by and see the puppy if they’re having a bad day or as a reward for good behavior. He often walks the halls with Thompson and stops by the classrooms where the students are particularly well-behaved as a special treat.
“B.J. is nice and he’s my friend,” second grader Jade Roberts said. “The best part is I love him and he loves me, too. And I love Ms. Thompson.”
Thompson said that B.J. is about as spoiled as they come, but he gives just as much love as he gets.