LITTLETON — Archie spends his school day like any other student: he greets his classmates as he gets off the bus, sometimes falls asleep in math class and takes long walks in the hallways to pass the time.
Archie just happens to be a 2-year-old English yellow Labrador retriever.
As a certified therapy dog, Archie comes to Littleton High School every morning to spread positivity and help students deal with the anxieties and stressors of high school life.
Its owner, Julie Elmore, a math teacher and assistant athletic director at the school, said the positive impact it has had on students, teachers and even parents is incredible.
“It just takes everybody’s blood pressure down a notch,” Elmore said. “It’s hard to be angry and upset when you’re petting a dog.”
During the day, Archie will comfort students in Elmore’s classes, make trips to visit students in the special education room down the hall and go wherever his presence is needed, Elmore said. This often means being a comforting presence that students can tame and communicate with when they are having a difficult time.
“Maybe a kid is just having a moment and struggling to recover, and it’s amazing how he can speed that up,” Elmore said. “A child who’s so anxious, so overwhelmed, just having a meltdown, can help them adjust more quickly than they might otherwise.”
Elmore first heard about therapy dogs a few years ago when she brought a friend’s golden retriever to her father’s nursing home. The response from patients and staff there has been “amazing,” Elmore said, and at the start of the pandemic, he was looking for a fluffy “stress reliever.”
But given her busy schedule, Elmore said it wouldn’t be fair to have a house-sitting dog. It was then that she decided to breed a therapy dog to bring with her to the classroom, even if Archie’s breeder would choose a pup with the right personality and temperament to handle such a task.
After adopting Archie in June 2020, the couple began training. Elmore brought him to sporting events where he could desensitize Archie to loud noises, and he once came to the school for a fire drill. Archie also accompanied Elmore to local grocery stores where he could get used to the people, smells, grocery carts, and other distractions.
But Archie needs to get certified before he can become a full-time therapy dog. He earned his Canine Good Citizen certificate in February 2021 when he was about 10 months old, and two months later, after his first birthday, Archie received his therapy certificate.
His transition to schools has been slow, but since January, Archie has been at LHS every school day, Elmore said.
“For some kids, it’s a positive thing to look forward to when school isn’t a positive place,” she said. “It is a difficult place. Difficulty, stress and anxiety follow problem after problem, but Archie helps them.
Tracy Turner, a school adjustment counselor at Littleton High School, has seen firsthand Archie’s ability to calm and comfort. When he meets angry and frustrated students, they will almost always want to spend time with Archie.
Archie also joined Turner and groups of students in learning skills to reduce anxiety and depression. When kids need a playful dog, he’s playful and comfortable with other kids, Turner said, and he’s been a “huge asset.”
“Without therapy dogs, especially dogs trying to recover from COVID,” Turner said, “I don’t know if our kids would be as well as they are if they weren’t here.”
While Elmore is looking for a COVID puppy, he said Archie is more important than ever as students return to in-person learning after two years of virtual and hybrid learning. As the children dealt with the effects of the distant school, Elmore said Archie was a “bright spot” in their lives and helped ease their transition back into the classroom.
The lab has become somewhat of a “Littleton High celebrity,” Turner said, and parents make him bandanas for holidays and spirit week.
According to Elmore, Principal John Harrington has been very supportive in the process of bringing Archie to LHS and is proud of the environment Archie has helped create.
In an email, Harrington expressed her gratitude for having Archie on campus.
“We love having Archie at LHS,” Harrington wrote. “He has been a wonderful addition to our school community and the positive impact he has on students and staff is almost magical!”
Littleton High recently introduced a second therapy dog, Sookie, a Coton de Tulear who is “kind of a diva,” Turner said.
So what makes these therapy dogs so successful? Elmore said he thinks there’s one big reason: They don’t talk.
“There’s no judgment,” Elmore said. “A dog doesn’t care if you get an A or an F, if you’re a star football player, or if you can’t run for your life. He doesn’t care, he’s just there. This is the whole unconditional love theme they talk about with dogs, loves them all.