Loudoun County therapy dog retires from service
If she were a student, she would be one of the most popular kids on campus.
It's easy to understand why the 9-year-old Bernese Mountain Dog is so loved. For the last eight-and-a-half years, the fluffy black, brown and white dog has helped children with all types of disabilities in Loudoun County's schools.
At the end of the summer, Sadie slipped quietly into retirement after veterinarians in April found a malignant tumor in her knee.
Her owner, Jody Rosas, said the gentle dog will spend the rest of her days laying under her favorite cherry tree and spending time with her family.
"She's doing well now and was able to return to classes," Rosas said.
Sadie began working for paws4people of Virginia, a group that trains dogs to assist active-duty military, veterans, inmates, children and students and seniors through companionship and specialized therapy programs, eight years ago.
Rosas began training with Sadie in special education classes in J.L. Simpson Middle School in Leesburg and later went on to work at five different Loudoun schools – Catoctin Elementary, Frances Hazel Reid Elementary, Smart's Mill Middle, Loudoun County High School and Sycolin Creek Elementary.
At Sycolin Creek, Sadie worked with five different classes on Fridays. She also worked with seeing and hearing impaired preschools, adult mentally disabled homes and senior centers. But Sadie responds best to children, Rosas said.
"I worked with a blind student in the past and that was an amazing experience … He had never really been exposed to walking with a dog, so [we were trying to get] him used to, in the future, having his own guide dog," Rosas said.
At one of the schools Sadie and Rosas visited, Rosas said they worked with twins with Downs Syndrome who were, in the beginning, terrified of dogs. Their reaction to Sadie generally was standing in the corner of a room screaming "no, no, no," Rosas said.
"It's been a few years in the making, but they are now hugging her … we finally got them to give her a treat. They would kiss her, but they would not give her a treat," she said.
"That's what makes it so exciting, having these goals and reaching them for each child. There's children that were nonverbal at the beginning of the year and find their verbal skills when they're with Sadie and they'll read a book to her," Rosas continued.
The students use Sadie as a tool to work on verbal skills while learning life skills such as manners, the alphabet and math.
At Loudoun County High School, a group of special education students brushed Sadie while they sang a song about days of the week and counting.
"My students have come so far with this dog," said Martha Schonberger, Loudoun County High School public education teacher.
Schonberger said she's used Sadie to help her students get through the commonwealth's Standards of Learning curriculum, specifically science.
"We learned about their five senses through Sadie and there's one science strand about how some animals as they grow from birth to adult, they change, like butterflies and frogs, but some stay the same. So, we use Sadie for that …" the teacher said.
Rosas said Sadie knows when it's time to go to work. She sees her owner put on her Paws4People vest and immediately begins dancing around.
The owner contributes Sadie's longevity to the therapy dog's work – the average lifespan of a Burnese Mountain Dog is 10 years.
"It makes her happy. It gives her a purpose," Rosas said.
Paw4People is always looking for volunteers and donations. For more information, visit wwwpaws4people.org.