Dusty Helps Grieving Student

Barbara Faatz Babikian is always proud of Dusty, her registered therapy dog. But it’s days like this that remind her of the great work they are doing as a therapy animal team!

We recently went on our Read with Me visit to our local elementary school. I always put Dusty’s therapy dog vest on before we get out of the car, so he knows he’s going to work. We walk up to the front door of the school and hit the buzzer to get in. As we walk in, I notice the office door is closed. Hmmm, what’s happening? My first thought is whether or not we should enter. I decide to proceed and notice a child lying on the floor with their head covered with their coat. I make my way to the sign-in sheet but Dusty picks up on it and lets out a little bark, not once but twice. Of course, I want to see if Dusty could somehow help but I tell him to be quiet and we leave the office to head to where we volunteer.

When I find the teacher I work with I ask if we are needed in the office and am told no. Okay, I understand, Dusty and I are there for a very specific purpose, to let children get comfortable with reading. We head to the classroom to pick up our first reader, on the way we are stopped and asked if we can return to the office to help after all. We head back and the child is now sitting in a chair with their head. As we enter the room, someone says, “Look who came to say hi to you.” I call Dusty over and instruct him to place his paws up on the child’s chair. As he does, the child slowly takes his coat off, revealing his face. We ask if the child would like to walk Dusty to class and read to him for the first time. The child nods yes. I put the second leash on Dusty and let the child walk him to class.

Once we arrive at the classroom, Dusty and the child get in their bean bags. Four or five books later, we start to chat a bit. I give the child a bookmarker of Dusty, signed with his pawtograph on the back. I could see how impressed some of the teachers and principal were with the impact Dusty had on the child. This is the work of therapy dogs who volunteer all over the country! I ask the child if he was ready to go back to class and he agreed. We made arrangements for Dusty and I to come back again next week for another session.

We all have different ways of handling grief. It’s especially hard with the death of a family member. This child had lost their grandparent and was having a hard time coming to terms with the news. I am so glad that Dusty and I were at the school that day and could offer a little helping paw. To be able to help a child that is struggling is why we volunteer and makes me so proud to be a Pet Partners therapy animal team for all these years!

Story provided by Barbara Faatz Babikian