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Stressed? Anxious? They’re all ears — and tails and fur

Photos by Dianne Carroll Burdick

Lowell — Three years ago, Bruno the golden retriever made headlines when he joined Cherry Creek Elementary teacher Brook Beaufait’s third-grade classroom as a therapy dog. Now, Lowell Middle School is following suit and has introduced two therapy dogs of their own. 

Red Lab Zaire and school counselor Melissa Simkins hang out in her office at school

Brogan, a yellow Labrador retriever, serves as a classroom dog with eighth-grade science teacher Katie Wirsch. He has his own “soft space” in the room with a rug and couch, enjoys chasing after balls during class free time and is quick to give kisses when a student needs a little cheering up. 

“The calm that he brings to the classroom is a physical thing — it’s almost soothing for (the students) — and that carries over to academics,” said Wirsch. “Dogs are quiet and can totally focus on a kid, and they don’t judge, and I think sometimes eighth-graders need that kind of attention.”

Zaire (rhymes with “berry”), a red Labrador retriever, is a Paws with a Cause dog who also serves as a counseling office dog with middle school counselor Melissa Simkins. She’s typically in the office three days a week and her presence has helped her connect with kids who might not otherwise visit a counselor.

“She brings a positive, calming energy to the counseling office. Just this morning we had two upset kids in here, and they can sit with Zaire for some quiet time, and that just helps them relax and calm them quicker,” Simkins said. “Dogs bring about a kind of happiness that allows kids to forget about other stuff that’s going on and just invest in the dog. There can be a stigma about going to the counseling office, but when Zaire is here, kids want to come see her. It helps us make a connection with kids we might not normally see or touch base with.”

From left, eighth-graders Brant Tiede, Bray King and Gavin Stewart volley the ball outside with Brogan the yellow Lab

Across the street at Cherry Creek, Bruno continues to make friends with everyone who passes by Beaufait’s classroom. He lends emotional support during M-Step testing, loves to help students with reading projects and even met Gov. Gretchen Whitmer when she visited in March. Beaufait chronicles Bruno’s days in the classroom on his very own Facebook page, Bruno’s Adventure.

“There’s so much research out there about how dogs reduce stress, lower blood pressure and anxiety in the classrooms, and I just wanted to offer that to my students,” Beaufait said. “Sometimes you want to calm an upset student or help them regulate their emotions, but you just can’t reach them the way that Bruno can. I feel like, as an educator, he takes away or reduces a lot of those environmental abstracts that are hard for me to control, so that I can focus on the teaching and learning. It’s really neat to see how he does that with kids.”

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Beth Heinen Bell
Beth Heinen Bell is a reporter and copy editor, covering Rockford, Lowell, Grandville and Cedar Springs. She is an award-winning journalist who got her start as the education reporter for the Grand Haven Tribune. A Calvin University graduate, she later returned to her alma mater to help manage its national writing festival and edit and write for enrollment communications. Beth has also written for The Grand Rapids Press, Fox 17 and several West Michigan businesses and nonprofits. She is fascinated by the nuances of language, loves to travel and has strong feelings about the Oxford comma. Read Beth's full bio

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