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Healing paws

9-year-old golden retriever brings new life to hallways

Waiting+outside+the+office%2C+Riley+sports+his+school+ID+as+students+stop+to+pet+him.
Waiting outside the office, Riley sports his school ID as students stop to pet him.

Waiting outside the office, Riley sports his school ID as students stop to pet him.

Photo by Lily Gomez

Photo by Lily Gomez

Waiting outside the office, Riley sports his school ID as students stop to pet him.

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Equipped with an ID badge and a Farmer shirt, 9-year-old golden retriever Riley roams the halls, now and then stopping to let students and teachers pet him. Diagnostician Donna Latson is always by his side trying to keep up with the questions that come with owning a dog or acknowledging the compliments they get.

“What’s its name?”

“Wow! He’s so big!”

“What type of dog is he?”

“He’s adorable!”

“Who’s a good boy? You’re a good boy!”

When Latson adopted Riley he was only 12 weeks old. Riley is currently working on his certification to become a therapy dog, having already completed all the obedience classes.

During high school, Latson felt uncomfortable when talking to people and making friends, so she loves that Riley is an outlet for students to start talking to one another. He’s the solution she needed when she was younger.

“One thing I love about having him here is that I see kids actually interacting with their peers,” Latson said. “[Students] walk with those phones and earbuds in [their] ears [not] paying attention to anything past those six inches. We need more phones down and more conversations; he opens up doors for conversation [because] nobody’s threatened by him to start talking.”

When Latson brought Riley to school for the first time, office staff members were taken by surprise. Eventually, they found that the dog was good at helping calm the staff down whenever they were having a rough day. Other staff members thought bringing Riley to school was an insane thing to do. They asked questions like “Why is he here?” and “How come you can have him here?” Latson didn’t have a concrete answer, but Riley helps to relieve tension at school.

“I thought she was crazy,” principal Jeffrey Kajs said. “When you add something to the normal day, you worry about what’s going to happen or what it’s going to look like. When Riley visited the special needs classroom, to see the energy that the kids had, it let me know that by adding Riley to the normal mornings, sometimes [it] makes everyone smile.”

Riley is a calming factor to the staff but he also becomes anxious because sometimes situations overwhelm him. For example, when Latson and Riley stay in the library, students flock around him and because of high-pitched squeals the girls make, he stresses out. Riley still does well in these situations because when he’s around kids, he tries his hardest to be a good boy, even when he feels tired and worn out.

“He likes his sleep, but when we’re here, he’s on and checking people and kids out,” Latson said. “He’s also not a fan of noise, like loud thunderstorms, and that kind of stuff. The hallway can be very overwhelming. It’s stressful, so he does very well dealing with that.”

Students enjoy having Riley around because some have dogs themselves. When Latson watches the kids interacting with Riley, she can tell who has dogs. She can tell who has a big dog or a little one.

“It’s a good environment for the dog to be around,” freshman Bryant Hernandez said. “Everybody loves the dog and it makes people’s day sometimes. It’s a pretty great feeling whenever [Riley] comes around; the mood automatically boosts up. Just seeing the dog puts a smile on their faces.”

It’s school policy that everyone in the building is supposed to have an ID, and Riley is no exception. He proudly wears his school ID as he accompanies Latson around the school.

“One day [Mr. Willi] was subbing for one of the assistant principals and he walked through [and jokingly] said, ‘Young man, where is your ID?’ and then I thought, ‘Oh my gosh! He does not have an ID!,’” Latson said. “So we went to the library and the ladies in there were so funny [they] went ‘Yes! We can do this!’ and they made him [one].”

After seeing how Riley interacts with the students in the right setting like when they’re in the library, simply roaming the hallways or even when he visits classrooms, Kajs knows Riley is not a distraction to students. Kajs acknowledges that school is where students are supposed to focus but it’s important to enjoy the environment as well.

“We forget how to have fun sometimes and I think [there is] nothing better than a dog walking around with an ID badge or a Farmer shirt on,” Kajs said. “I think it softens the edge on some people. Hey it’s school, yes it’s kind of serious sometimes, but it’s OK to smile and have a good time and Riley brings that.”

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1 Comment

One Response to “Healing paws”

  1. Donna Latson on April 12th, 2018 8:34 AM

    Riley loves making his rounds and seeing his friends! Thank you for sharing his story.

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