Novi School District’s first therapy dog to retire
Students are saying goodbye to their best friend since she can no longer jump over the office desk to greet them and play as she used to.
Her chocolate fluffy hair and calming presence has impacted the lives of nearly 6,000 elementary school children at Village Oaks Elementary alone.
Teagan, a 12-year-old Labradoodle, is Novi School District’s first therapy dog, and after 11 years of being on duty, she is set to retire.
Teagan’s owner, Kathy Siarto, is a second-grade teacher at Village Oaks and will be retiring as well. Siarto was the one who brought the idea of a therapy dog to Principal Sue Burnham. Burnham said the previous school she worked at had a therapy dog and loved the idea of starting a new tradition at Village Oaks.
After completing six training courses and earning her Good Canine Citizen certificate in fall 2006, Teagan started coming to work every day with Siarto.
She hangs out in the main office and begins her day by greeting all staff as they report to work.
“She has her favorites and knows exactly what teachers will give her a treat,” Burnham said. “Teagan is always on hand to give a lick or rub to those students who are not feeling well or just need someone to love them.”
Teagan primarily works with students and staff who are having a rough day, need some encouragement to take their medication, or help calm those with disabilities and anxiety attacks.
Seven other teachers are following Teagan’s lead and are also retiring. Siarto has been a teacher at Novi for 38 years and said that after Teagan was diagnosed with a red blood cell disease three years ago, she knew it was time.
“It’s been 38 great years in Novi, and it was getting close,” Siarto said. “A lot of us were thinking about retiring, and once one of our bosses decided she was going to retire, we all followed her. We know were leaving the school in good hands.”
Novi High School and Novi Middle School both replicated Village Oaks’ model and brought therapy dogs in as regular staff members. Novi High School officials said Henry, a Portuguese water dog, served for three years before his owner and teacher at the high school accepted another position outside of the school district.
Mary DePotter, secretary counselor at Novi High, said kids loved having a therapy dog and greatly benefited especially at a high school age.
“Sometimes they just needed to come in and lay on the floor, Henry would go right over and lay with them while they were crying and after 10 minutes they leave happy. He was really amazing. We miss him,” DePotter said.
Even though Teagan is in her golden years, Burnham said hasn’t stopped her from connecting with others and showing off her impressive trick collection.
“I wanted to name her something no student would be named and something Irish,” Siarto said. “Teagan is Gaelic for beautiful.”
Her last day at Village Oaks will be June 16 and as of now, Siarto said they have not found another dog to take Teagan’s place.
“Her wonderful dedication and incredible successful performance in her role paved the way for the service dogs joining our school staffs today,” Burnham said.
“She is a legend at Village Oaks and loved by all. Her constant presence, excellent work ethic and unconditional love will be missed.”