Kula in the Classroom
NEW YORK –- Kula’s a teacher, but her work in the classroom is a little bit different than most educators’. She has a purpose without having a purpose. Sometimes she’s there for a specific lesson and other times, she’s there -- just to be a dog.
In a rural upstate New York school, this unique four-legged middle school teacher is convinced she deserves merit pay. But she won’t get it any time soon. Her cold wet nose, four paws and tail that refuses to stop wagging during class, prevent her from earning a paycheck.
But for all she does, this 85 pound yellow lab is rewarded in something better than money. Payday comes in the form of pats on the back (and head), smiles and doggy treats.
Kula, (pronounced Cool-uh), is living the dream. Luckily she’s has never been chained to a tree or stuck in a dirty space that’s too small for her body. Instead, she visits a sixth grade classroom at South Jefferson Central School once a week to share her love and “teach” students. Over the past several years, Kula‘s visits have opened this teacher’s eyes to the possibilities of what can be learned through her example.
Unlike traditional classroom pets such as guinea pigs, hamsters and fish, the dog experience is different.
So, what’s so special about Kula in the classroom?
Maybe it stems from that notion of “man’s best friend.” Somehow, this dog’s presence encourages people to be better people; to raise the level of consciousness about how we relate to all other living things.
Kula lessons usually begin on the topic of dogs, but mysteriously get diverted to humans.
“I’ve learned that dogs are just like people,” said a young male student. “They love to eat, be lazy and have love.”
“Mrs. Kellogg brings Kula in the classroom because she thinks it teaches us something,” said a female student. “I think that thing would be that if you care for someone or something, you get love and care back.”
Raising kids’ awareness is easy with Kula’s help.
She’s a dependable friend. She visits regularly, so kids know her. They build a meaningful relationship that’s based on love, mutual respect and trust -- something that you just can’t get from a video game.
She’s accepting of everyone. Kula doesn’t care about your appearance or your IQ. Through her example, students see the essence of genuine appreciation and its role in developing meaningful relationships.
She’s uplifting. Her positive energy represents everything that’s right about the world.
She reminds everyone to lighten up and use their sense of humor. Conflict dissolves, rivalry disappears, and five-line forehead scowls fade away upon her entrance.
She’s genuine. You get what you see –- no pretense here. She’s an ace in the hole of adolescent poker.
A typical school day is full of smiles, hundreds of greetings and the clicking of toenails on tile floor.
“Kula!” is heard throughout the day as people of all ages want to get close to her. Some kiss her head, while others wrap their arms around her neck. A few politely pat her -- sometimes, they plop right down on the floor with her. As students file in, this master greeter works the crowd.
Breaking barriers comes easy for this pooch. Oblivious to personal space, Kula plops down in the middle of everything when kids work on the floor. She’ll be right there, leaning on someone or lying on her back waiting for a belly rub.
Shy she is not. A dog in every way, she is.
Drop something and she’ll inspect it. The janitors especially appreciate that she eats gobs of ABC (already-been-chewed) gum off the floor.
Even though we laugh a lot over Kula, her greatest gift to the classroom is her calming influence. Since day one, she’s been a teaching “partner.”
She’s’ an educational asset whose intrinsic value could not be predicted. What started with a few simple lessons on responsible pet-ownership has evolved into something magical. Kula became a school dog. Her presence offers opportunities for reaching kids that the class’ human teacher couldn’t do alone.
She has a sixth sense, a way of wiggling into kids’ hearts -- her wet nose always finds anyone who needs a dose of TLC.
One day, a student returned to school after attending a funeral. Kula circled the room, honed in and settled so close he could have fallen out of his seat! It was his first smile of the day. It’s inspiring to see how kids benefit from her just being herself. There’s no plan for that -- it just happens.
Throughout history, people have recognized the value of human-animal interaction. Therapy Dogs share love and compassion in hospitals and nursing homes, service Dogs are invaluable to the physically-challenged and other working dogs support police and rescue efforts around the world.
While Kula doesn’t save lives or locate lost hikers, her talents are just as beneficial. A student in her class explained it best.
“She just gives you life. Kula makes you smile even when you don’t want to smile.”
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This story was written and photographed by Lynn Kellogg, special correspondent to Pet Pulse.
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