First Day

“Copper, do you want to go to school?” I asked enthusiastically, emphasizing the word ‘school’. You bet he did. He was wagging so hard his whole tail end was in it, and he smiled up at me and jumped in the passenger side.

I was excited too; the first day of Healing Species was unique and fun and always made me feel like clicking my heals together in triumph. The reaction of the students at seeing a dog in their school, the material we covered, and the student’s attentiveness and expressions as they feel the stories told on this first day, were enough to get anyone excited.

We cruised to the school, with the windows cracked and the radio on.  Copper stuck his nose out the window and now and then hopped down to the floorboard to see if I had perhaps dropped any food by accident. I saw that he found something down there, and I grimaced. He’d eat anything, including crayons or erasers, and if some tasty treat even fell on the floor, his nose knew where it landed.  He made me laugh with his ravenous appetite, because I knew he got fed, plenty. He was a wonder;  how eager he was to please, and how confidently he strutted the hallways. It was inspiring when I thought about where he came from.

Every dog that comes into the classroom has a story of overcoming abuse, abandonment, or neglect, and with compassion and love and a second chance, has triumphed outstandingly, with grace and a cheerful demeanor. They are an example to us all that no matter what we may have been through, or who has hurt us, we can heal, and we can still love.

Copper was no exception. He was found by Animal Services, walking down a long, country road, thin and worn out. The saddest part of the story was that when he was found, there were distinct cigarette burn holes on his ears, where he had been abused. He had apparently run away in an effort to escape the abuse, and had nearly starved to death in his attempt at a new life. Then he was taken to a shelter and got in line to be either adopted, which was unlikely, or put down, and with each day that passed, his fate looked more and more desperate. Finally a couple, newlyweds, came to that shelter in particular, because they knew the fate of the pets who wouldn’t get adopted, and they hoped to save a life. Instantly, when their eyes met Copper’s, they knew he was the one. He was now as much a member of the family as a child would be, with plenty of love, attention and affection, and even occasional trips to grandma’s!

We pulled up the school, got checked in and made our way down the hall to our classroom.  As we were walking down the hall, a line of adorable first graders stared in awe and wonder.

“Mrs. Johnson! There’s a doggie in the school!” a little boy exclaimed happily.

“Can we pet him?” a little girl asked, as she stepped out of line and dived down to Copper.

“Is it okay with you?” I asked Mrs. Johnson, and she nodded and smiled her consent and Copper and I walked right down the line of tiny shoes, and Batman book bags, and eager hands reaching out to pet him. They asked hundreds of questions like, “What’s his name? How old is he? What kind of dog is he?” I smiled and answered as many as I could, then we were back on our way. Copper loved it. He was prancing now, chest forward, tail wagging.

“Copper, you’re such a celebrity.” I told him as we approached our classroom.

I gave a quick knock and looked through the window. Everyone was getting excited, standing up and then sitting back down in their desks impatiently. The teacher beckoned me in, and Copper and I made our grand entrance.

After we introduced ourselves and I told the students Copper’s story, I asked if there was anyone who was afraid of dogs. All the student’s heads turned to look at a little girl in the back, and she shyly raised her hand.

“Well, sweetheart, you do not have to touch him, and I will even keep him on this side of the room, away from you, okay?”

She smiled gratefully. “Does he bite?” she asked.

“No, Copper does not bite. He’s not aggressive a bit. He’s a sweet little puppie!” I said in my dog voice, so he knew I was talking to him, too. He laid down on his side and looked at me, and the entire classroom erupted in laughter. I looked at the shy little girl in the back and she was smiling, too.

“Do you want to try and pet him?” I asked her.

Her classmates started encouraging her. “Try! Do it! He won’t bite!”

Even the teacher smiled confidently. “If you want to try, now’s your chance. Do you want to try to pet Copper?”

She looked frightened, but deep down I saw that she really wanted to. She wanted to trust this dog but she looked up at me, uncertainly.

“Come here. I’ll pet his head and you can pet his back.”

The whole classroom got quiet as she made her way up front, smiling a little out of nervousness. I got Copper in a love grip, petting his face, and he was smiling with his eyes shut. As she was approaching, he opened one eye and looked at her, then me. With that look he told me he knew exactly what was happening at that moment. He had been in this position before, of helping a child overcome their fears. Copper was empathetic. He had had his own fears to overcome at one time.

She crouched down and gave Copper a quick pet on his back, with one finger. The classroom cheered!

“Do you want to try again? Copper loves to be petted.”

This time, she petted Copper with her whole hand, and he twisted around to say hello. Instead of alarm, she petted him on his neck, then on the top of his head. Copper started sniffing around her wrist and arm with his wet little nose. She was delighted. The whole class was charmed and even the teacher was caught in the moment.

Such a moment. Being there as a child overcame their fear with patient understanding and the encouragement of her peers. Watching her come alive as she realized her courage. Best of all, watching her face light up as Copper sniffed kisses on her hand and followed her to her seat.

After the class was over, and everyone had emptied out, she appeared at my side.

“Mrs. Amanda? Can I pet Copper one more time?”

“Sure thing, sweetie.”

As I was packing up and erasing the board, her teacher came up to me.

“That was truly amazing. She has been a little nervous about  these classes because she knew the dog would be coming with you. I just wanted to thank you for taking that time with her.”

My heart was warm and it was showing on my face. The girl jumped up from the floor after giving Copper a hug goodbye. She put her tiny little arms around my waist.

“Thank you, Mrs. Amanda! See you next week!” And I want to click my heals with joy.

On our way back to Copper’s house, I smiled as he resumed his search for crumbs on the floorboard. He had a good day. We both did.

Healing Species. Healing, growing, overcoming, loving.

I can’t wait until next week.

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