ALEDO, Texas — He’s got to be the most popular guy at school. It’s his hair, his eyes, the way he walks down the hallway.
The Dallas Morning News reports the students at McCall Elementary clamor just to be near him.
Pax, a fuzzy 3-year-old golden retriever, visits the school at least once a month to do what he does best: offer comfort.
“They just love him,” counselor Shannon Reynolds said. “We like to make Pax a really fun part of the school.”
Pax and Phoebe, another golden retriever, are part of the Lutheran Church Charities’ comfort dog program , which includes Fort Worth’s St. Paul Lutheran Church. The program sends out 100 dogs from 24 states for free visits.
Pax and Phoebe spend six to seven hours a day visiting hospitals, nursing homes and anywhere else that calls for their help in North Texas.
Pax in November traveled to Sutherland Springs to bring comfort to the small South Texas town after more than two dozen people were killed in the church shootings there.
Pax was walking with Janice Marut, St. Paul Lutheran’s comfort dog coordinator, when they met a fire chief who told them a struggling firefighter could use a boost.
Pax and five other dogs visited the restaurant where the volunteer firefighter worked. She spent time with the dogs and their handlers, who prayed with her, Marut said.
Later, the firefighter’s mother told the charity’s president the visit with the dogs was the first time the firefighter had smiled since the shooting.
“That’s what we do; that’s what we do with a dog,” Marut said. “And it’s really not about the dog. The dog just gets us there and allows us to do the ministry.”
Pax, whose name means “peace” in Latin, also traveled to Orlando, Florida, after the Pulse nightclub massacre that killed 49 people in 2016 and provided comfort in Dallas after the police ambush downtown.
Before he went on his first comfort mission, Pax learned how to behave as part of a program in Chicago, where he completed more than 2,000 hours of training.
When his leash is on, Pax knows to obey his handler, who can be anyone from a pool of 45 trained volunteers from the church. He can respond to 40 commands.
On his recent visit to McCall Elementary, Pax helped Reynolds, the school counselor, as she read “Marley: A Thanksgiving to Remember,” a story of a mischievous golden retriever.
The relaxed, 74-pound pooch splayed across the colorful carpet as kindergartners surrounded him, touching his whiskers, smoothing his fur and playing with his paws.
After the story, Reynolds had each student tell Pax what they were thankful for.
“I’m thankful for my swimming pool and Pax,” Caden Laughley said.
“I’m thankful for Pax and Jesus,” Samantha Reeder said.
“I’m thankful for Pax and bunnies,” Ella Lee said.
Reynolds calls the church when she knows a student or staff member needs support. She has reached out when a student has lost a loved one or has a relative dealing with an illness.
The dog’s presence in Reynolds’ office can help students talk about how they’re feeling or just make them feel better if they’re too young to put their feelings into words, she said.
“He just brings so many smiles and lots of love and comfort to our building, and we’re just really, really blessed,” Reynolds said. “He’s helped us in so many different situations, from kindness to sadness to celebrations.”
When Pax can’t be there, the counselor has a stand-in stuffed toy replica, Pax Jr., that children carry around for comfort. Similar toys were handed out to the children in Sutherland Springs.
Pax gets plenty of toys, too. When he’s not working, he loves to roll in the mud and play, handlers said. And he gets a massage every day.
“It helps reduce the stress from him,” Marut said. “Because whatever stress he takes from a child he keeps, and we have to help him get rid of it.”
Information from: The Dallas Morning News, http://www.dallasnews.com
This is an AP Member Exchange shared by The Dallas Morning News