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Cooper Turns Two

Catching up With Reading’s First Comfort Dog
Mina Willander (’23)

“Cooper no, get back here,” says Officer Lewis as he sees the dog sticking his head in the trash can behind health teacher Ms. Fiorello’s desk.

This black lab was on a mission.

Trotting all around the classroom, sniffing each backpack, climbing under chairs, before finally comfortably settling down and cramming himself under a table of students who are trying to pay attention to the presentation being shown by the Reading Collation for Prevention and Support. Laughs fill the room, and all eyes are on Cooper–the school comfort dog. 

Cooper came to RMHS in March of 2022 when he was just eight weeks old and a twenty-pound ball of cuteness. Everyone was obsessed–staff and students alike. Fast forward: he is now ninety one pounds and will be turning two this month. 

What is a Comfort Dog?

If you asked someone twenty years ago if they ever imagined dogs finding their way into schools they most likely would’ve looked at you like you had five heads. Now, comfort dogs can be found walking the halls of many schools and colleges all across the country.  

Comfort dogs are a type of therapy dog. They are categorized as a support animal. Comfort dogs are not just school pets; they have a specific job and purpose. The use of comfort dogs in schools is to help students deal with stress, mental health disorders and encourage academic engagement. Comfort dogs provide a calming, friendly and loving presence. 

Comfort dogs are usually first selected for their temperament and then undergo training. Cooper went to regular obedience training. Once completing obedience school he had to pass an Alliance of Therapy Dogs certification test. This test consisted of three observations by a tester along with an exam on his behavior. “He passed with flying colors,” according to Officer Lewis.

Cooper’s Work

Officer Lewis with Cooper. Photo by Mina Willander (’23)

Cooper is a therapy dog who works for the Reading Police Department and he is assigned to Officer Lewis. “He’s been coming with me to the Reading High School since he was eight weeks old and the goal of the program is one, to break down communication barriers between students and the police, and then two, to provide a source of comfort for people who are going through a tough time,” said Office Lewis.

Officer Lewis and Cooper are in the building everyday and they “hangout in my office” as Officer Lewis put it. Officer Lewis works on his actual police work while students pop by his office throughout the day to pet or just say hi to Cooper. He said, “I feel like that brings a kind of stress relief into the building.” Students often come by when they are nervous about a test or are just feeling stressed or anxious.

Along with spending time at RMHS they are also assigned to the NEMLEC STARS Team. This means that both Officer Lewis and Cooper provide support to other communities when they are in times of need; this includes when they have a threat to the building or a student or faculty death. 

In the past few weeks they have gone to Northeast Vocational Tech School and Beverly High School to provide support after both these schools had a student die. Officer Lewis elaborated on the program. “We’re in the school for like two hours with a couple other comfort dogs, and the whole goal of the program is to just make people feel good and sometimes just petting a dog can bring your anxiety and emotions down and kind of level set you.”

Cooper also attends meetings with Officer Lewis. He recalled a time when he was in a meeting with Principal Callanan.  “She was leaning forward in her chair, and in the middle of this meeting with other administrators Cooper jumped up behind her and just sat in between like her back and the back of the chair. So, he’s just funny.”

In addition to the work he does during school hours you can also find Cooper at many of the high school sports games and town events, including the Fall Street Faire, and tree lighting. 

Over winter break the Girls Varsity Basketball team hosted a tournament. Cooper was there to support the Rockets. He made his grand entrance, immediately running up to and greeting Mr. Zaya–the RMHS Athletic Director and the man who Officer Lewis calls Cooper’s favorite person. The Billerica and Arlington Catholic Girls teams entered as they were about to face off next, and not a single player passed by Cooper without giving him a pet. “Oh my god, he’s so cute! Awe.” The words echoed through the field house. Cooper truly is the RMHS celebrity.

The Cooper Effect

To say Cooper has been a positive addition to the RMHS community would be an understatement. Since entering the building almost two years ago, Cooper has become an idol in the hallways. 

Lily Stanton (‘24) remembers being quite excited when she heard that we would be getting a comfort dog. She said, “Anytime I see Cooper I see people petting him, so I think people really enjoy his presence.” Liz Grimm (‘24) commented, “I was very excited when RMHS got Cooper because I love dogs, I love puppies and he was a great, really cute dog.” Grimm added that just being able to stop throughout the day and “pet a dog” is really nice especially when she is missing home. 

Cooper has been with Officer Lewis since he was just eight weeks old. “It makes me really happy to see him actually doing his job when necessary.” He reflected on the time a few weeks ago when he and Cooper went to Beverly High School. “We were in a classroom full of the close friends of that student who had passed away, and her twin sister, and just seeing him make people laugh and they’re petting his belly just kind of putting them at ease. You can see all their worries kind of melt away at that moment in time. I think that brings me great joy.”

Mina Willander (’23)

It really is amazing the impact a dog can have on the people around them. Cooper is a funny pup, constantly making everyone laugh. When in the classroom he will just bop around often causing commotion, getting caught under chairs and moving around desks. He sometimes forgets he is ninety one pounds. “Just seeing a dog in a classroom is unusual, and I think that kind of brings the energy down a little bit and finds some calm energy for everyone,” said Officer Lewis.

Officer Lewis put it perfectly. “He brings comic relief.” I think everyone who has ever met Cooper can agree it’s really hard to be around him without cracking a smile or sharing a laugh with the people around you. That is what we need; through the tough years of high school everyone still needs to smile. 

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    Debi KintonFeb 9, 2024 at 7:42 pm

    Great job, Maeve!!! Love, Mrs. Kinton