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Star, a bernedoodle

Canine Comfort

Abbot School's newest employee has a way with kids, especially those who feel sad or upset.

by Anita LeBlanc

From the March, 2020 issue

She also excels at helping kids read and understand stories better. The furry employee will wear a collar, a vest, and a leash. She'll have a bed in each classroom.

Star, named for the Abbot All Stars, is a "bernedoodle," a low-shedding companion dog with the intelligence of a poodle and the serene, loyal temperament of a Bernese mountain dog. After Abbot's principal Pam Sica's son told her about seeing a dog in his school in Brighton, she felt that a therapy dog would help kids with trauma issues and promote a calm learning environment.

Sica contacted Karen Storey, a special education teacher and founder of the ten-year-old Pack of Dogs program that has placed a therapy dog into each of Brighton's schools. Storey in turn put her in touch with Cindy Coleman of Mi Mountain Doodles, near Lake Orion, who donated one of Brighton's dogs. "I felt maybe I could do one puppy each litter," Coleman says, "because I believe that what they're doing is so amazing and worthwhile. I wanted to be a part of it."

Coleman donated Star to AAPS, but Abbot still needed $10,000 to pay for her training. Sica turned to the Ann Arbor PTO Thrift Shop with a last-minute request for help. "The Shop had a good year, and even though this request fell outside of our usual AAPS support programs, our Board voted unanimously to make an exception," emails Paulette Brown, the shop's general manager. "The Ann Arbor PTO Thrift Shop supplied $9,200. ($800 was raised privately.)"

Brown says the project "could be repeated in other schools." Sica says that many other schools already have reached out to her to learn about getting their own therapy dogs.

Sica says Abbot students, staff, and parents are very excited about the school's canine staffer, who's expected to start work in late February or early March. Second-grade teacher Kathleen Briggs will be Star's handler, with Sica filling in. Students will be taught how to interact

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with Star, and those who are uneasy or allergic can opt out.

Sica extends Abbot's gratitude for "all the support we've received, especially from the PTO Thrift Shop. Also, we are so thankful for Crystal Eberly from Washtenaw Veterinary Hospital. She is donating veterinary services for Star." Sara Eicher of the Groom Room is contributing grooming services.

Brown says that thrift shop staffers hope that Star will stop in for a meet and greet, adding, "We have treats!"


This article has been edited since it appeared in the March 2020 Ann Arbor Observer. The number of dogs Cindy Coleman donated to the Brighton schools has been corrected.     (end of article)

[Originally published in March, 2020.]


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