Sophie and I often visit school classrooms. Today we were invited to Oak Grove Elementary to speak to the pre-k class about guide dogs. This class has several students who are visually impaired and the teacher just completed a unit on “pets.” I shared a storybook with the teacher about a guide dog and she read it to the children ahead of time. So they were well prepared and very excited to meet a real live guide dog.
We talked about Sophie’s very special job – to take care of me and keep me safe. They learned that working dogs usually have a harness or vest for their “work clothes.” I described how Sophie went to a special “dog college” to learn her job and that I had to go to the same school to learn how to work with Sophie as a team. We discussed how important it is to not pet or talk to working dogs while they are doing their job. The kids learned that they should ask permission before petting any dog, especially service dogs.
I asked the children to think about all the things a dog needs to be healthy and happy. They came up with food, water and treats. I brought Sophie’s brush and a toy to tell them that she needs grooming and time off to play like other dogs. They learned that Sophie also needs exercise and her teeth brushed, just like them. But most importantly, I told them she needs love, praise and affection so she knows that I appreciate the work she does for me. I gave them examples of the ways she takes care of me like helping me to cross a road safely, go down stairs, and find my way out the door. She takes care of me and I take care of her; we are a team.
All the while, the children sat on their squares, containing their wiggles and giggles. Then I took off Sophie’s harness and invited them to brush and pet her. Sophie weaved among them sniffing, giving wet kisses, and swooshing her beautiful, happy tail. The children squealed with delight. Some were eager to brush her and pet her, others not so much. Sophie brought some of her favorite treats to share with the kids so they could give their doggies a treat at home. It was a good day with some important lessons learned.