BUCKHANNON — On Wednesday, April 20, Buckhannon Academy Elementary School (BAES) hosted a “pup rally” for the introduction of therapy dog Foster. Students, staff and prominent members of the community gathered for the event. Prior to Foster’s arrival, the Buckhannon-Upshur High School Jazz band, drumline and cheerleaders performed for those in attendance.
A press release provided by Upshur County School noted that Governor Jim Justice and First Lady Cathy Justice recently announced that BAES is one of three schools across the state receiving a therapy dog through the Friends with Paws Program. Therapy dogs will serve as healthy, friendly outlets for students to address trauma and support social, emotional well-being throughout Upshur County.
BAES Principal Susanne Britton stated, “We are grateful to have been chosen by Governor Jim Justice, First Lady Cathy Justice and their team to engage in the Friends with Paws program. This is a dream come true! We have envisioned having a therapy dog to support our ever-changing student needs, but it has been out of reach until now. We look forward to seeing the social, emotional, and cognitive benefits as well as the joy that Foster will bring us all. We are so excited for all the joy Foster is going to bring to us.”
First Lady Justice was slated to escort Foster into the event; however, the First Lady had become ill and was unable to attend. With that said, Executive Assistant to the First Lady Vicky Shannon was present and had First Lady Justice on the phone. The First Lady apologized for her absence and spoke highly of Foster and all of those in attendance and those who had contributed to the event.
Foster then made his grand entrance with cheers of delighted children filling the room. Foster then presented some of his tricks with the training of Ultimate Canine. Foster followed all commands and was so pleasant and well behaved.
Superintendent of Upshur County Schools Dr. Sara Lewis-Stankus then spoke. “I firmly believe that every home deserves a dog. A home with a dog assures us that when you come home you will always know that someone there loves you unconditionally. When our two-legged friends disappoint us, our four-legged friends are always there by our side ready to listen, to love and give us doggy kisses. Dogs just smile and they love us. I want to thank Governor and First Lady Justice for the gift of Foster. He is a gift that will keep giving,” said Dr. Lewis-Stankus.
Dr. Lewis-Stankus then introduced Mayor Robbie Skinner. “We are so happy that Foster is here and I have a special treat for Foster,” said Mayor Skinner. “This is my first time ever giving a key to the City of Buckhannon to a dog. Foster we are so happy to have you in Buckhannon and we are giving you our most important award, this key, that opens everything including a secret stash of treats. Thank you all so much and I hope you give all the love in the world to Foster because that’s what we do in Buckhannon and we’re going to love Foster, aren’t we?” All the children cheered in response.
Dr. Stankus also took a moment to recognize Dr. Greenbrier Almond, who was in attendance, as well as Senator Hamilton, Randall Sanders, Mrs. Debbie Shapiro who handles therapy dog Ollie and provided her thanks to all. Dr. Lewis-Stankus then invited Brittany and William Squires to speak.
First Grade Teacher Brittany Squires will serve as Foster’s handler. “As a teacher, I strive to create an environment in my classroom that promotes a sense of belonging, respect and value,” Squires said. “My students will always know, above all else, that they are loved. Having a therapy dog in our school will help to expand that environment outside of my four walls and to the community as a whole. The unconditional love of a dog is an experience that all children should have the opportunity to feel. I am excited for Foster to meet the students of Upshur County and begin his work in fostering love, kindness and emotional support.”
BAES Assistant Principal Eric Brand noted there were no objections when approached on the opportunity to obtain a therapy dog. “We didn’t name Foster but the name Foster translates to courage, cherish and nurture. We liked the name Milo, which means calm and peaceful. So, I would like to officially announce that Buckhannon Academy Elementary School is now the proud handlers of Foster Milo Squires whose mission will be to promote a nurturing sense of peace and calmness to Upshur County Schools by fostering everyone he’s around with love, kindness and emotional support,” said Brand.
When asked, BAES second-grade student Riley Ann Potter said, “I want to pet him and he looks cute. I’m excited to have Foster here.” Potter noted she has a dog at home and she is also looking forward to reading to Foster.
Welcome to your BAES home Foster!