Even though he’s a newcomer to Cherry Creek Elementary, Bruno is already quite popular. He even has his own Facebook page.
But Principal Shelli Otten said he is also available to the larger student body on an as-needed basis. Even then, she said, “It’s very structured, whether it’s reading to him or taking a walk to calm down.”
Bruno is third grade teacher Brook Beaufait’s golden retriever. For now, he is mostly planted in her classroom, where he curls up beneath students’ group tables as they work, and is on hand for petting during stressful assignments or emotional meltdowns.
The process of allowing Bruno in school was nearly a year in the making.
It included bringing Otten and Superintendent Greg Pratt on board with the idea; Bruno’s completion of “canine good neighbor training” and receiving certified therapy dog training from West Michigan Therapy Dogs; getting 100% buy-in from classroom parents; and introducing the concept to the school’s 500 students in grades 2 to 5.
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Some of Beaufait’s students wrote letters to Pratt saying how Bruno has already helped them. Wrote one, “Bruno makes me feel happy and safe,” adding that in a real lockdown drill “he would be there for me.”
Beaufait visits classrooms with Bruno to acclimate students to seeing him and to run through dog safety.
She tears up when recalling a student with autism, whom she didn’t think cared much for Bruno. Beaufait said the student’s mother heard a different story.
For Beaufait, it reaffirmed “how helpful his being here is (in) giving some kids who have trouble socializing or verbalizing their feelings. (The student) sees how other kids respond to Bruno and knows Bruno is something he can talk about that they have in common.”
Beaufait said it’s not uncommon for teachers to “plop on my couch during their specials and just pet and pet him. It’s a good stress-reliever for them too.”
Bruno’s not alone in the West Michigan school dog gig.
At Grandville’s South Elementary, C.C., a lab and retriever mix, will begin her role in October as comfort dog, available in permitted areas to students and staff for reading, classroom life skills and special events. When C.C is not at school, she will live with first grade teacher Kim Hyde and her family.