When Daniel Freeman got Toby the golden retriever, he never could have foreseen how the wiggly little puppy would benefit the student body of Morro Bay High School.
But, in the 11 years Freeman brought Toby to class as a trained therapy dog, he saw how the pup brightened student’s days and became a fixture around campus who would walk the halls with a stuffed animal in his mouth to entice students to pet him.
When Toby died in October, he left a dog-shaped hole in the school, as well as in Freeman’s heart.
“The school was just devastated,” said Freeman, who teaches 10th grade honors English and 11th grade college prep English. “He was quite a known figure and it was really tough.”
Now, Freeman is raising money through a GoFundMe campaign to help introduce a new therapy dog to the campus. Freeman said the majority of the money — he is trying to raise $5,000 — will be used to bring in trainers that can work with him and his students to promote good handling and training.
“The amount would be enough for 20 to 30 different sessions, some maybe with the kids,” Freeman said. “It might be after school, it might be on a Saturday but it would be open to students to watch how animals are trained and handled.”
“The first day I brought him in, I saw how effective he was,” Freeman said. “They (the students) adored him and he calmed the class down. It was amazing to have a calm classroom with a puppy in there. There were kids who, just by spending time on the floor with him, were able to go back to their desks a little more calm, a little more able to focus.”
“Toby was a part of our staff,” said Kyle Pruitt, the principal at Morro Bay High, who added that Toby was “always happy to see you if you needed a pickup.”
“Everybody knew him, knew they could rely on him, and he knew how to act around students.”
Pruitt said he and the administrators are excited and “totally in support” of a new dog.
“It’s a trusted animal that can be around kids, and I feel very good about that from a responsibility part,” Pruitt said. “It’s just such a calming presence and it’s so powerful.”
Freeman says he is still searching for the right dog. Ideally, Freeman says, he would look for a puppy that’s about 3 to 4 months old so he could work with the dog over the summer and bring it to school when it’s about 6 or 7 months old and “has some maturity.”
But “the right dog comes at the right time,” he said. “A lot of people are rooting for us, and there’s a lot of energy coming our way.”