Photo by Danny Fulgencio.

Most neighbors have a case of the weekend blues on Monday morning, but one perky poodle is eager to get out the door for his workday. For Oso the therapy dog, Mondays mean jumping in the car with owner and Alex Sanger Elementary administrator Casey Stewart for an action-packed school day.

“Whenever I bring out the official vest he wears to work, his eyes light up, and his tail starts wagging,” Stewart says. “He can’t wait to see the kids, and it definitely shows.”

This exciting routine wasn’t the norm for Oso a few years ago. As a puppy, he was born with features undesirable to breeders and buyers. Poodles must have black eyes and black noses, and Oso did not meet the criteria with his liver-colored nose and green eyes, Stewart says. By default, Oso became a “discount dog.”

Photo by Danny Fulgencio.

Stewart, a licensed professional counselor, looked past his rare facial features and took him into her home. Now, Oso’s family and the students at Alex Sanger can’t get enough of him.

“I use that as a teachable moment for the kids,” Stewart says. “It doesn’t matter if you’re different. Oso was unwanted for his physical features, but that’s what you guys like about him.”

That isn’t the only lesson the kids learn from him. Oso and Stewart help students with social-emotional learning. In other words, Oso teaches the kids how to better understand and manage their emotions.

“When I bring Oso to a classroom, I teach the kids how to approach the dog and interact with him in a controlled manner,” Stewart says. “It’s a really good life lesson about boundaries, personal space and social cues.”

Kids with anxiety and learning disabilities have made progress in the classroom with Oso. If students are in a state of high anxiety or are having difficulties in the classroom, teachers allow them to pay a special visit to Oso to help them regroup.

Not to mention, students bond over their love for him. Plans for Oso include certification tests to work with wheelchairs, canes and walkers so he can continue helping different types of neighbors.

When Oso isn’t on the job, he enjoys swimming, running or playing with his poodle brother Scout, a therapy puppy in training.


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