LITTLETON — Archie goes about his school day like any other student: he greets his classmates as they get off the bus, sometimes dozes off in math class and takes long walks through the hallways to pass the time.
Archie just happens to be a 2-year-old English yellow Labrador retriever.
As a certified therapy dog, Archie arrives at Littleton High School every morning to spread positivity and help students deal with the anxieties and stressors of high school life.
His owner, Julie Elmore, a math teacher and the school’s assistant athletic director, said his positive impact on the students, faculty and even parents has been incredible.
“He just takes everybody’s blood pressure down a notch,” Elmore said. “It’s hard to be pissy and grumpy when you pet a dog.”
During the day, Archie will comfort students in Elmore’s classes, take trips to visit students in the special education classroom across the hallway, and go wherever his presence is requested, Elmore said. That often means being a comfy creature students can pet and interact with when they’re having a tough time.
“Maybe a kid is just having a moment and struggling to get their composure back, and it’s amazing how he can expedite that,” Elmore said. “A kid that is so anxious, so overwhelmed, just kind of melting down, he can help them regulate much quicker than they might be able to do otherwise.”
Elmore first heard about therapy dogs several years ago, when she brought her friend’s golden retriever to her father’s nursing home. The reaction of the patients and staff there was “amazing,” Elmore said, and at the onset of the pandemic, she was looking for a furry “stress reliever.”
But given her busy schedule, Elmore said it wouldn’t be fair to have a sit-at-home dog. It was then that she decided to raise a therapy dog to bring with her to the classroom, even having Archie’s breeder pick out the puppy with the right personality and temperament to handle such a job.
After adopting Archie in June 2020, the pair started training. Elmore brought him to sporting events, where she could desensitize Archie to loud sounds, and he came into school once for a fire drill. Archie accompanied Elmore to local grocery stores, too, where he could get used to people, smells, grocery carts and other distractions.
But before Archie could be a full-time therapy dog, he needed to get certified. He earned his Canine Good Citizen certification in February 2021 at about 10 months old, and two months later, just after his first birthday, Archie was therapy certified.
His transition into the schools has been slow, but since January, Archie is in LHS every single school day, Elmore said.
“It’s a positive thing to look forward to school when, for some kids, school is not a positive place,” she said. “It’s a tough place. It’s challenge after challenge after challenge and stress and anxiety, but Archie helps them through.”
Tracy Turner, a school adjustment counselor at Littleton High, has seen Archie’s ability to soothe and comfort firsthand. When she meets with students who are upset and overwhelmed, they’ll almost always want time with Archie.
Archie has also joined Turner and groups of students learning skills to decrease anxiety and depression. He’s playful when kids need a playful dog, and easygoing for other kids, Turner said, and he’s been a “huge asset.”
“Without the therapy dogs, especially trying to recover from COVID,” Turner said, “I don’t know that our kids would be doing as well as they are if we didn’t have them here.”
While Elmore was looking for a COVID puppy, she said Archie is more important than ever, as students are back to in-person learning after two years of virtual and hybrid learning. As kids are dealing with the effects of remote school, Elmore said Archie has been “a bright spot” in their lives and has helped ease their transition back into the classroom.
The Lab has become somewhat of a “Littleton High School celebrity,” Turner said, and parents make him bandannas for holidays and spirit week.
Principal John Harrington has been hugely supportive throughout the process of bringing Archie into LHS, Elmore said, and is proud of the environment Archie is helping to create.
In an email, Harrington expressed his gratitude for Archie’s presence on campus.
“We love having Archie here at LHS,” Harrington wrote. “He’s been a wonderful addition to our school community and the positive impact he has on students and staff is almost magical!”
Littleton High also recently introduced a second therapy dog named Sookie, a Coton de Tulear who’s “kind of a diva,” Turner said.
But what makes these therapy dogs so successful? Elmore said she thinks there’s one big reason: they don’t talk.
“There’s no judgment,” Elmore said. “The dog doesn’t care if you get A’s or F’s or are the star football player or can’t run to save your life. He doesn’t care, he’s just there. It’s that whole unconditional love thing they talk about with dogs, loves them all.”