LITTLETON, Colo. — Students in Arapahoe County are creating a very special bond with their school therapy dog while also learning to read and write.
Rex is an Arapahoe County Sheriff's Office therapy dog who works in eight Littleton elementary schools.
The 9-month-old puppy and his handler, School Resource Officer Deputy John Gray, also visit Arapahoe High School and Newton Middle School.
On Tuesday, the pair stopped by Dr. Justina Ford Elementary to have lunch and read with students. The kids love the therapy dog so much that a fifth grade student made a mailbox for Rex so classmates can drop off letters to him.
"Maybe if they didn't see him today in class, they will put a letter in the mailbox," Gray said. "They can write and draw whatever they want."
More than 50 letters have been placed in Rex's mailbox this school year. There are new messages in the box all the time.
"When I see a kid interact with Rex, you know, they may say this is the best part of their day," Gray said.
School leaders at Ford Elementary have displayed the letters to Rex on a wall behind his mailbox.
"Kids wanted to know more than just 'how can I pet him,' but 'how can I really connect with him?'" Principal Teresa Burden said.
Rex brings joy to kids wherever he goes. Inside the school cafeteria, everyone wants to sit with the therapy dog. To spend extra quality time with Rex, kids have to show good behavior.
Ford Elementary follows a behavioral model that teaches kids what expected and positive behaviors are. If kids show good acts of kindness, they get rewarded. One of the most popular rewards students choose is lunch with Rex.
"Kids just connected with animals in a different way than they connect with teachers or families, and it is just beautiful to see," Burden said.
School officials are quickly learning how important the program is to kids, especially during a pandemic.
"It is hard for students, because they can't see that expression, right?" Gray said. "They are losing that empathy, so this is a great tool to teach kids empathy."
Gray believes there aren't enough dogs in schools. He's hoping they can expand the program in Arapahoe County.
SUGGESTED VIDEOS: Feature stories