Kaden Becker is a 12-year-old special education student at Elkhorn Middle School.
Bo Jolly Rogers is a 4-year-old, 135-pound Bernese mountain dog.
They are great friends, Becker and Bo.
They go back to Kaden's elementary school days, when the big dog first lumbered into his life. Kaden cannot see Bo, but he hears Bo coming because wherever Bo goes he's greeted by cheers. And when Bo is near, Kaden's face — there's no other way to put this — lights up. His teachers lift him from his wheelchair and lay him beside the mountain dog. Bo licks his face and Kaden's smile rolls into a laugh, and for several minutes they rest side by side, Bo's giant paw against Kaden's arm, their heads inches apart.
It is early on a Wednesday morning, and if there's a better way to start a day than this, good luck finding it.
On the floor with Kaden and Bo is the woman who introduced them. Her name is SuZanne Rogers. She wears the yellow T-shirt of a Domesti-PUPS ambassador, her auburn hair pulled into a side ponytail, her smile bright. She could pass for a country music star, but here at Elkhorn Middle School she's more important than that.
Every Wednesday she visits. If she doesn't bring Bo, she brings Gracie, her 11-year-old golden retriever. Both are certified therapy dogs. Rogers trained with them to become a certified therapy dog handler, bringing support and kindness to schools and hospitals. She knows firsthand what such a visit can mean for someone who needs it.
Today he's a healthy 16-year-old, but when Rogers' son Jack was in third grade, he ran a high fever that sent him to the hospital. Rogers and her husband, Grant, were scared, stressed as only parents of a hospitalized child can be stressed, when a therapy dog team visited Jack's room and something happened. Something in them all lifted a little.
A few days later, when Jack left the hospital, Rogers turned to Grant, high school sweethearts these two, and said, “We're doing that.”
In another classroom on this Wednesday morning, Patrick Swan shares a book about Bo. He's worked on it for weeks, with help from Marie Matuella, his special education teacher.
Just months ago 12-year-old Patrick shied away from Bo. Now he's greeting him like an old friend — “Bo!” — and giggling merrily when he walks in the room. And then minutes later, Patrick is sitting on the floor, narrating his book to Bo and his classmates Shawn and Racheal and his teacher Mrs. Matuella and Rogers, who says, “I am very proud of you.”
“What's next, Patrick?” Rogers says. “Are we saying the Pledge of Allegiance?”
To which Patrick holds a hand in the air, not quite finished telling his story. “I've got to read.”
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