Teacher’s Pet

You might say Buc is the teacher’s pet. The four year old Black Lab is definitely at the head of the class. Buc is volunteer dog with the HABIT (Humans and Animals Bonding in Tennessee) program. He and his human, Janet Hathaway visit Mrs. Friant’s Eagleton Elementary every Friday morning so that the children can read to Buc. “The children are able to feel comfortable around Buc,” says Janet. It’s easy for them to read to him, because he doesn’t care if they mispronounce a word or if they stutter. It helps build their confidence.”

It’s part of the mission of HABIT. Founded in 1986, the program sponsors animal assisted therapy programs for people of all ages. The programs are held at assisted living centers, hospitals, schools and other venues. HABIT is a non-profit, community based group of volunteers which operates under the auspices of UT’s College of Veterinary Medicine. The group works to promote what it sees as an invaluable bond between people and animals. There are currently 400 members with 250 actively volunteering in 70 different programs.

Each Friday morning, Buc jumps impatiently into Janet’s car for his weekly trip to school. When they stop to drop off Janet’s daughter at her school, Janet has to keep Buc in the car. He gets excited as they approach the drop off; his head goes out the window an so would Buc if Janet didn’t hold him back. He thinks he’s where he’s supposed to be and can’t wait to get to work. He loves his students, and the attachment is mutual. Janet says the children will often write letters to Buc, or draw him pictures. When Janet and Buc leave for the day, the kids all wave and say goodbye as Buc makes his way out of the classroom.

He doesn’t really want to leave, though. “He’d come everyday if I let him,” says Janet. “When we leave home in the morning, he jumps in the car without a problem, he’s ready to go; but when it’s time to go back I’ll have to give him a treat to get him in the car.”

Janet began volunteering with HABIT about six years ago. She began working with HABIT on her husband’s suggestion. He had seen volunteers and their animals in his work at UT Medical Center and he thought his wife would be perfect for the program. She had a different dog then. A 9 year old Yellow Lab named Sam. He and Janet volunteered for three years before Sam had to retire. They worked at a nursing home together, helping lift the spirits of senior citizens.

Now Buc has carried on the volunteering spirit of his predecessor. He’s been doing work for HABIT for about three years now, and loves every minute of it. “We love the school, and we love interacting with the kids,” Janet says. “It’s amazing to see the difference in them from the beginning to the end of the school year. At the first of the year they can’t read, but by the end of the school year want to read Buc three or four books at a time.”