Dogs In The Classroom

Having a dog in your classroom might seem a little... weird. However, Vin Fiordalis, long serving administrator and maths teacher at Shaker Heights University School, Ohio, has been an advocate of dogs in the classroom for quite some time. In this recollection he recounts the value of having a dog in his own classroom and pays tribute to dogs as real "teachers' pets." Using dogs as a creative teaching method is something that many teachers should consider. Of course, there will probably be obstacles ("Are you serious? You want to have a WHAT in your classroom?!!!"), but for many teachers, the value is obvious.

Vin Fiordalis:

Someone once made a remark to me that; " you cannot have a friend, until you learn to first be a friend." Good friendships are part of any wholesome community. Schools provide a real and positive secondary family setting for many. Teachers, students, staff and administrators interact developing meaningful personal relationships. Valuable lessons in modeling and mentoring occur. True caring relationships with real trust develop on very personal levels. The chemistry among individuals who spend a great deal of quality time together in the schoolhouse is often very positive. Friendships are made in school that for lifetimes. Have you ever considered that dogs can be a meaningful part of this overall friendship equation? Children and dogs are often inseparable.

Growing up in a large family during the fifties I also enjoyed excellent school community experiences. The teachers I had were wonderful and made my school days meaningful and fun. After recovering from a medical problem that occurred during third grade, something wonderful happened that made a huge difference in my life. Our family got its first dog as a pet. Real unconditional love in the form of a four-legged spotted Dalmatian puppy named Pokey arrived. She was a most wonderful addition to life in general around our busy home. This dog lived a full happy and healthy life as a member of our family enriching everyone's life for almost eighteen years. We all have fond memories of shared individual and family experiences with Pokey.

After I married we got a pet dog. My wife was raised with dogs, and loved them as pets also, so, we adopted a Welsh Corgi shortly after we got our first living quarters. We've had corgis as pets over the years and now golden retrievers. In the summer of 1988, my wife's brother and his wife gave us a golden puppy for an anniversary gift, from a litter they raised, as we were in need of a dog. Misty was the runt of the litter of a dozen pups and also coincidentally, shared the birthday of our youngest son. She started coming to school with me in the fall and joined my sixth grade homeroom. She had a puppy cage located in the back of the classroom directly adjacent to the door that led outside. Right from the first day she was a great "hit" with all the faculty and children.

Everyone soon came to know and love Misty. Mr. McDonnell, the Latin teacher next door, and Dorothy Burford, the maintenance person assigned to our area, became her best adult school pals.

She usually began the day in homeroom with a game of checkers against the children. "Caesar" McDonnell was the arbitrator of these daily matches and she was undefeated. Misty always knew where to find a treat in either "uncle" Pat's office desk drawer, or "auntie" Dorothy's "closet" hiding spot. She often napped during classes, played during recess, chased squirrels, romped with the labradors belonging to a neighbor of the school, frolicked with maintenance man Steve Sydor on the athletic fields, and played football after school with the fifth and sixth graders during glorious fall afternoons.

Misty was a valuable and important member of our sixth grade classes for all eight years she was alive. She seldom missed a day of school and looked forward to the trip in each morning. She provided all with her unconditional attention and caring love. Nothing seemed to calm down a distressed sixth grader as well as a session with Misty. Many temporarily troubled preadolescents found quick and complete relief after visiting Misty and sharing some time together. After a busy recess, I often came into the room, only to find a gaggle of twelve-year-old children huddled around her on the floor reading. She often would wander about the classroom visiting each and every one and supplying a bit of invaluable attention. Each student had a personal relationship with this "golden" friend. She was a very special member of our classes and the overall school community.

She died at home from cancer just before the 1996 Thanksgiving holiday. She was remembered fondly by all during the whole school assembly. Misty was part of the very fabric of life in the University School community and her unconditional gifts will be remembered by all who had the good fortune to know her. Her friendship was a blessing to all who encountered her at school.