From therapy dog to school mascot

It’s a standard part of every school year.  In those first few days, young students—kindergartners, especially—get homesick.  When that happens at Ballard County Elementary, Cassie gets the call.  She and her owner, John Holt, know just what to do.  “If Mr. John offers her leash to that child, they take it and start walking and the tears dry up,” says Vicki Gough, principal.  “She can walk them down the hall to the classroom.  It’s amazing how it works.”

When she’s not cheering up sad students, Cassie can usually be found in the library.  She’s a great reading pal and all librarian Rhonda Pace has to do is slip her an occasional doggie treat.  “Very excited, but so well-trained,” Mrs. Pace says.  “She doesn’t move until Mr. John tells her what to do.”     

When Holt first called the school office and offered the services of his licensed therapy dog, Mrs. Gough was a little hesitant.  But she has seen new attitudes develop in the learning process over the years.  “When I started in education a long time ago, we didn’t even have school counselors at the elementary level,” she says.  “So I have seen it evolve.”  Now Cassie is pictured in the school yearbook with the other staff under the title “school mascot.”

Cassie is also a regular at academic team meets, wearing her trademark Kelly green Ballard Bomber skirt.  And when a student earns a reward for reaching reading goals, that reward just might be a high-five from Cassie.  It’s one of the many tricks this sharp little Pomeranian can do.

She’s usually one of the first—and last—faces students see in a typical school day.  And Cassie and John don’t mind working a little overtime.  “If we have a mix-up in the afternoon and a child has to wait for their parent, he sits right there with them and Cassie, and they talk and pet and read and do homework until someone shows up to take them home,” Principal Gough says. 

“She relieves any kind of anxiety they may have. You see it on their face when they walk in, if they’re nervous or worried, they instantly start smiling.  And adults do too.  There’s just something about Cassie.”

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