Cool School: Therapy dog is a big hit at East Bay school

Brett Lorrie has been teaching sixth-grade math at Joaquin Moraga Intermediate School for a quarter-century. This fall, his class got a plus-one: his 5-year-old golden therapy dog Chloe.

Three days a week, Lorrie and Chloe are car-pooling buds.  

"It is so enjoyable to think about. I’m going to my job to teach and over my shoulder, I have one of my best buddies with me. How fortunate am I," said Lorrie.

The therapy dog idea spawned from the success of a "Read to a Dog" program. The dogs brought about calm and confidence. So, Lorrie thought ‘Why not introduce Chloe to a whole bunch of kids?'

After being certified this summer, his golden retriever was enrolled at the school for three days a week.

"The days where we pull out her therapy vest she starts running in circles. She knows what we’re doing and seems generally excited to do it. She seems to be born for this and I can’t take any credit. She came prepackaged in the most wonderful way," said Lorrie.

On this day, Chloe got a classroom hall pass. While the students toiled over numbers she got double-team and in some cases triple-team rubs. A distraction? Sixth-grader Nicolas Wasicek says not one bit.

"She’s very calm and collected.  It’s always fun to see her in the classroom. Also, somehow, petting her makes me feel better about learning. It makes me concentrate a bit more," said Wasicek.

At brunch Chloe’s ‘Q’ rating soars even higher. She is a certified canine rock star, but she gives back so much more in return. And that’s why principal Mike Plant gave Chloe a big green light.

"I’m not even a dog person myself, and Chloe has won me over entirely.  You can see the joy even on my face," said Plant.

Chloe spends the bulk of her day inside Joaquin Moraga’s Leslie Cary Wellness Center named after a beloved teacher; a safe place for students to seek help or just take a breath away from the rigors of school.  Joy Marlow-Braitberg runs the center.

"The kids' faces just light up.  It’s amazing, and she just has a calming way about her.  And she’s so sweet."

And J.M. students totally agree.  

"My face immediately starts brightening up.  Just seeing her makes me smile and relax," said eighth grader Addison Davis.   

Zoe Branford-Lacour takes it a step further.

"Are you better at school because you get to pet the dog? …I think so because she helps get rid of the stress, and it makes it easier for me to focus on my studies," Branford-Lacour said.

It’s been a win-win for students and faculty, but after a full day of compassion even Chloe needs a little quiet time.

"When we get home and the vest comes off we find her on our couch sacked out pretty soon after," said Lorrie.

And Chloe’s work week is about to get longer.  In mid-October, she will also visit Rheem Elementary in Moraga two days a week making her a full-time therapy dog.