When it comes to comfort, a Hickory Hill Elementary staff member does what she can to help. She listens and offers support to all those who need it.
She also walks on four legs and is the furriest of friends to students and staff.
Rue, a 3-year-old golden doodle, started her second year at Hickory Hill as a therapy dog, alongside her owner Traci McCormick, a school counselor.
When McCormick adopted Rue as a puppy, she soon realized Rue would help aid students at school.
“We knew just because of her temperament that she would be a perfect therapy dog. We decided to make the commitment to do the training for her,” she said.
After a year of training and completing classes, including good-canine citizenship training and a therapy dog assessment, Rue received her certification as a service dog.
Throughout the school day, Rue is by McCormick’s side no matter if she’s supporting a classroom, responding to a student in need or running a group.
“She’s a pretty integral part of every day here. We are in a partnership and together we go throughout the day,” McCormick said. “She is a part of their life here at Hickory.”
McCormick said Rue is “chill” during the day and has no problem listening to commands which are instructed both verbally and through hand signals.
Rue is at the school two to three days a week. As she builds up more stamina, McCormick said, she will extend her working days.
Though she gets tired after about three days of work, McCormick said she is always excited to get to school.
“She is very excited to be here. In the morning, when I go for her vest, she pops up and her tail wags and she’s so happy,” she said.
Students also appreciate her presence, she said. With hundreds of students in one building, McCormick said there is a lot that goes on.
From family and friend problems to low grades, Rue offers support to students who struggle.
“When students come in and they are upset, I truly believe she can feel that,” McCormick said.
When students come into her office, Rue sits next to them and lets them pet her golden fur. McCormick said in those situations, students often say they feel happier after petting her.
“Her presence just brings a different level of calm to different situations,” she said.
Third grader Mondo Hitt is a close friend of Rue, McCormick said.
He pets her often and even helps fill up her water bowl.
“I like her because she’s a nice friend and she’s fun to play with,” Hitt said.
When he sees her in the hallways, Hitt said he is always happy to see her because she makes him feel better.
“Rue is kind and helpful,” he said.
In addition to helping students through difficult times and lending them a paw, McCormick said she hopes this inspires others to be creative when it comes to self-care.
“Sometimes it’s OK to think out of the box when you need to find something that brings you comfort,” she said.
But more than anything, McCormick said she wants Rue to be another resource for students.
“As a team, we can be more successful in supporting students,” she said.