Virginia elementary school learns alongside a big, furry friend

Virginia elementary school learns alongside a big, furry friend
Children pet Gabe will relaxing in class. (Source: WHSV)

ROCKINGHAM COUNTY, Va. (WHSV) — A kindergarten classroom at River Bend Elementary School in Rockingham County has a huge furry companion — a 200 pound mastiff named Gabe.

Gabe is a therapy dog whose owner, Wendee Constable, teaches kindergarten. Gabe is Constable's second therapy dog, who she co-owns with a local breeder.

"I've had Gabe since he was a puppy. He's about four-years-old now. I find that days that he is here, just things are more relaxed," said Constable.

Although he is based in her kindergarten classroom, he helps children throughout the entire school.

Gerri Ziegler is a first grade teacher at River Bend and she said that sometimes she sends students in her class to spend some time with Gabe.

"I've been very blessed to have Gabe work with several of my children out of my classroom this year, and he has taken them when they've been in need for just some comfort," said Ziegler.

Starting this school year, students can write letters to Gabriel about why they need extra time with the massive canine. That effort is focused on the older students in the school. They have a spot set up in the library where they can write to Gabe, and if they use correct punctuation, grammar and spelling, they may get a chance.

Constable chooses students from the letters to bring students to her classroom, and spend 10 to 15 minutes with Gabe for relief.

"It's just changed everything. They come back ready and reset and relaxed and just more at peace with being with themselves after being with him," said Ziegler.

Gabriel has become a regular part of the classroom. He is not a novelty or distraction to students as they do their work. He sits on the floor or walks around to patrol the room. If he goes into his crate, students know he needs a break and do not bother him.

Constable said that Gabe also helps to teach responsibilities like getting him water and taking him for walks.

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