Therapy dog retires after 14 years

Almost 15-years-old now, fluffy white mixed-breed dog Teaka is now deaf and nearly blind. But every week, she slowly makes her way through the front doors of the Captain Albert Stevens Elementary School in Belfast, Maine, where she serves as a trained therapy dog.

Teaka was rescued from a from a high kill shelter when she was just a pup. (Photo credit: Abigail Curtis/Bangor Daily News)

For the past 14 years, Teaka has been a friend to the students in kindergarten to fourth grade at the small Maine school. Teaka helps the kids gain confidence, improve their reading and speech skills, and deal with emotions during hard times and personal traumas.

But as Teaka has gotten older, explains her owner, teacher Page Dilts, it has become clear that it is time for the little dog to retire.

“This year she only came in a couple days a week,” Dilts says of Teaka. “She loves to come to school, but she’s tired.”

Students, faculty and staff attended an all-school assembly Friday afternoon in honor of Teaka, the dog who has meant so much to everyone. The assembly was a celebration of Teaka’s good work and the lasting friendships she has forged with all of the students she’s met over the years, but it was also a time of bittersweet goodbyes.

Second grader Joey presented Teaka with a heartfelt letter. “Oh Teaka I love you down to my heart and soul,” he wrote. “You are the best dog in school. I hope you have a good summer.”

“She’ll miss us most of all,” says Captain Albert Stevens Elementary School fourth grade student Maddie, 9. “She’ll miss you terribly,” Dilts confirms.

For such an accomplished therapy dog, Teaka, whose name means “dog” in Navajo, came from humble beginnings. Dilts adopted rescue dog Teaka from a high kill shelter in the southwest when she was just a pup and brought her home to Maine. Impressed with Teaka’s intelligence and gentle demeanor, Dilts enrolled her new canine companion in a therapy dog-training program through nonprofit organization Therapy Dogs International.

After earning her therapy dog license, Teaka begin what would be a long and fruitful career at Captain Albert Stevens Elementary. Teachers and staff noted what a difference the happy little dog made in the lives of their students.

Second grade teacher Emily Savage explains that students often wrote letters to Teaka about their lives, their feelings, their happiness and their struggles. The school even installed a special mailbox just for notes to Teaka.

“I just see a really good connection with the kids,” Savage says.

“Teaka can be a real calming force,” school guidance counselor Cynthia Martell tells the Bangor Daily News. “Petting the dog can help them get centered. We pet her while we talk about what’s going on. Dogs are good listeners.”

Source: Bangor Daily News