Buddy is John Sutter Elementary School’s Big Man on Campus. He is hands down the most popular guy at school. During morning recess, everybody wants to play with him.
“Buddy! Buddy! Come here!” the kids call out to the two-year-old, 75-pound, white Golden Doodle that is the Santa Clara school’s official therapy dog.
Buddy is 26″ high. When he sits or lies down, eight or nine children easily gather around him.
Even the shiest kindergartners and first graders flock to Buddy’s side. When asked what they like about him, Annie, Danielle, Kakshita, Samantha, Ensalyn and Alena spoke up.
“I like to pet him. He always plays with me. He’s snuggly. He’s always cute. He’s soft. He’s nice! We read with Buddy,” they said.
Teacher Samantha Maksim’s third grade class was rewarded with “Study Buddy” time for practicing the school’s three Bs — be safe, be reasonable and be respectful. The class got to read with Buddy for 75 minutes one Friday. He cuddled and sat with them on their big reading rug.
“Buddy makes us happy and kind,” said the third graders. “He makes us want to be nicer to others. We noticed he was thirsty and got him water.”
“He comforts you when we feel sad. He makes you feel better. He comes when you call,” continued the third graders. “He’s the fastest runner in Sutter School. He’s amazing!”
Fourth/fifth combo teacher Jean Lucia, who has taught at Sutter since 2012, is Buddy’s owner. Her classroom is his homeroom. Her students take turns being on “Buddy Patrol,” making sure his needs are met.
A few years back, Lucia and the students raised chickens on campus. They were a big hit.
“If the kids can love chickens that much, what would a dog do?” she thought to herself.
The Sutter School community at 3200 Forbes Ave. — principal, faculty, staff and students — all supported Lucia’s proposal to have a school therapy dog.
Lucia researched dog breeds, learning that Golden Doodles are hypoallergenic and gentle with children. She bought Buddy from a professional breeder, using her own funds.
Lucia had Buddy professionally trained and certified as a therapy dog and insured him to be on campus. Then the Santa Clara Unified School District granted its approval.
Impact of a Therapy Dog
Buddy is a calming presence on campus. He visits classes. He attends assemblies and staff meetings. He makes talking videos.
“Buddy is social, emotional support for the kids and staff,” said Sutter Principal Michael Fong. “We all need support.”
Office attendance clerk Lisa Macachor said that when things get stressful, Buddy suddenly appears. “He makes us take things less seriously.”
“He makes us laugh,” said school secretary Stephanie Orr. “And that’s good therapy.”
A few times a week, children are brought to the office because they are stressed or anxious.
“Then we just call in Buddy,” said Macachor. “When the kids see him, they light up. Within 10 to 15 minutes, they’re ready to go back to class.”
Fourth and fifth graders lined up during recess to share their insights about the benefits of a school therapy dog.
“Buddy is one of the reasons I love coming to school,” said one.
“When I see him, he melts away my stress.”
“Even if I’m not near him, he relaxes me and makes me feel happy.”
“When I go to school, I might be worried about getting my homework right. But when I see Buddy, the stress lifts off my shoulders.”
“If we’re getting bullied, he’ll be there for us, even if he doesn’t know you,” said the last student before recess was over.
Lucia, who had her own school stories to share about the transformative power of Buddy’s unconditional love, summed things up.
“It doesn’t matter how the kids did on a test or if they got in a fight with their mom or brother in the morning,” she said. “Buddy is there giving and receiving unconditional love. He’s a guiding light.”