“He’s Everybody’s Friend”: At Recess and in the Classroom, Copper Teaches Inclusivity
Pets Best is pleased to announce the four finalists in our Fourth Annual 2017 Books & Barks Contest. In 2014, Pets Best created the contest to recognize the hard-working and inspirational therapy dogs who visit classrooms and libraries across the nation. These incredible dogs make a positive impact in the lives of children on a daily basis.
Meet Copper, the (nearly) seven-year-old Golden Retriever known for his growing rock collection, penchant for Hot Wheels, and the special bond he shares with the 260 students at B.F. Kitchen Elementary School in Loveland, Colorado. As the small school’s resident “goofball” and unofficial mascot, Copper often joins his owner and handler, Jennifer VonLintel, as she heads to B.F. Kitchen for work each day. This is VonLintel’s ninth year as a school counselor, and her sixth year working alongside Copper at the school — where she says Copper has made “a huge impact on the students.”
It’s a unique situation for a member of school staff to also work within the school as a therapy dog owner and handler (B.F. Kitchen is the only school in its district using this particular model), but Copper is a unique dog. The arrangement allows VonLintel to seamlessly incorporate a therapy dog program in new and exciting ways, too. For instance, because Copper and VonLintel are at the school together full-time, they participate in recess duty together several days a week. “Several students usually walk with him at recess. We look for students that may be on their own, then we approach them, invite them to play, and make sure they feel included,” she says. “It’s a great opportunity for children to practice their social skills in a less structured environment than a classroom.”
But when the recess bells rings and students at B.F. Kitchen return to their classrooms, they also get support from Copper within the school’s walls. When VonLintel works with with small groups or individual students on social or behavioral skills, she often involves Copper in the process. “If they’re working on focus and following instructions, I’ll set up a rally course with five stations, and each student and Copper will have to complete a specific goal at each station,” she says. “Or, if we’re working on improving organizational skills, say with their backpacks, we will do exercises using Copper’s school bag — ‘OK, you’ve got five seconds to find his brush!’” VonLintel demonstrates.
Copper is a certified therapy dog through Canine Community Heroes, a Colorado non-profit organization. He is also a member of Lego Club and Outdoor Club, is helping with an outdoor garden at the school, and often helps students with their reading skills — now that his puppyish energy has slowed a bit. “I look to him to see how I might integrate him into a program or a session with the students,” says VonLintel. “A lot of it is knowing what he can do first, then developing a curriculum and using his strengths to enhance it.” Copper and VonLintel also do road guard crossing in the mornings, where he is recognized by others in the community: local parents, younger students, and staff members.
Outside school hours, VonLintel and Copper work with other organizations, such as Hope Animal Assisted Crisis Response. And when there was significant flooding in North Colorado in 2013, the two visited Red Cross headquarters and lent their support to students in the Greeley-Evans School District — several of whom lost everything in the flood — as they selected new clothing and personal items. “He’s spread a lot of joy to a lot of people,” she says. He’s known as everybody’s friend and always happy to see you. He’ll be walking down the hallway and it’s a continuous, ‘Hi copper! How are you?’” relates VonLintel. “And it’s not just the students; it’s the whole B.F. Kitchen family that’s been impacted over the years,” she says. “He’s a unique dog with a unique job, and he’s brilliant at it.”
Books & Barks Contest Information
If you enjoyed reading about Copper, stay tuned for more stories about our Books & Barks finalists. Visit the Pets Best Facebook page to vote for your favorite therapy dog starting on March 23rd and ending on March 30th, 2017.
The therapy dog finalist with the most public votes will win! The school, library, or program mentioned in the winner’s nomination story will receive $1,000 from Pets Best and the therapy dog’s owner will receive $500 to donate to their animal non-profit of choice.
If you missed this year’s contest, you can still nominate your favorite therapy dog for next year’s 2018 Books & Barks Contest.