At Roundtop Elementary, it’s Paws with a Cause

Joining Lady in a reading group at Round Top Elementary School are: D.J. Barnes, Lane Broderick, Kaylyn Boyd, Carson Buie and Amanda Hill.

Blythewood’s Round Top Elementary School welcomed an unusual 7-year-old to school this fall – Lady, a yellow Labrador Retriever and former seeing-eye dog, who reports eagerly to homeroom in Mrs. Holly Threatt’s classroom each day.

Lady enjoys her new role as a learning helper at Round Top. She listens attentively when students practice reading aloud, and is surely proud that by January, every first grader in the school will have read a story to her.

Threatt, who teaches reading in grades K-3, adopted Lady last summer.

“She had just retired as a guide dog, and clearly had the qualities of a great therapy dog,” Threatt said. “Our family’s other dog, Elvis, goes to work with my husband every day, and I didn’t want to just leave Lady home alone. Plus, I could see that she was itching for a new job to do!”

So Threatt spoke with Principal Jeaneen Tucker about ‘employing’ Lady as a learning helper, and they decided to give it a try.

“We introduced her slowly and carefully to the students,” Tucker said. “We knew that some children might be apprehensive around dogs, but it’s turned out that often those very kids who had some apprehension have become great friends with Lady and go out of their way to pet her or give her a smooch.”

In Threatt’s classroom, the opportunity to take Lady on a walk around the school is a coveted reward.

“When students achieve their weekly reading goal, they can choose from a variety of rewards,” Threatt said. “A little quality time with Lady is one of the most popular choices.”

Tucker said that Lady helps students not only academically, but that her presence also helps to develop the compassion and humanity that is kindled through fun, friendly relationships with animals.

Though Lady spends a comfortable chunk of class time snuggled into her cozy bed, she still manages to keep up with her extracurricular activities such as leading the school’s Pawfest Dog Parade in October. She also happily accepted an invitation recently to visit with students at nearby Blythewood Middle School.

And, of course, Lady has a stylish side! She proudly wears a different fashion collar with her pink leash each day, and went trick-or-treating as – what else? – a Ladybug. Her classmates were delighted that she gamely dressed as a terrific (yet humble) Wilbur the Pig for the school’s Charlotte’s Web party.

“Lady is amazing with the kids,” Tucker said. “She’s well-behaved, and seems to understand that even difficult moments can be teachable situations. For instance if a child does something that Lady doesn’t like, such as pulling at her tail, Lady will move away. So we use that opportunity to illustrate that if you act unpleasantly towards a friend, it makes that friend not want to be around you. But when you treat people (and animals) nicely, they will react in kind.”

Tucker said that Lady is especially gifted at comforting children who are having a bad day.

“She’s a gentle spirit – you can see it in her eyes,” Tucker said. “One day a student came to school very sad because her family’s dog had just died. She asked to spend some time with Lady, and it helped to console her through a very difficult time.”

Lady’s easygoing personality encourages the children’s affection and supports their good work habits.

“She has added a wonderful element to our school,” Tucker said. “The kids absolutely love her.”

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