Hanover High students returning the favor to a canine friend

  • Hanover High School students B Graubert, left, and Rebecca Berger greet Dewey before learning ways to help him recover from a blood clot that attacked his spine in September. The students worked with a dog rehabilitation therapist on Tuesday, Nov. 12, 2019 in Hanover, N.H. (Valley News - Jennifer Hauck) Copyright Valley News. May not be reprinted or used online without permission. Send requests to permission@vnews.com.

  • Judy Coates, a canine rehabilitation therapist, evaluates therapy dog Dewey at Hanover High School on Tuesday, Nov. 12, 2019, in Hanover, N.H. (Valley News - Jennifer Hauck) Copyright Valley News. May not be reprinted or used online without permission. Send requests to permission@vnews.com.

  • Hanover High School student Rebecca Berger learns rehabilitation techniques for Dewey on Tuesday, Nov. 12, 2019 in Hanover, N.H. Dewey, a therapy dog at the school, is recovering from a blood clot that attacked his spine. (Valley News - Jennifer Hauck) Copyright Valley News. May not be reprinted or used online without permission. Send requests to permission@vnews.com.

Valley News Staff Writer
Published: 11/17/2019 10:00:19 PM

HANOVER — One step at a time, students are returning the favor that Hanover High School’s popular therapy dog has been doing for them for more than five years.

For half an hour on a recent Tuesday morning, Hanover High sophomores Eleanor Press and Rebecca Berger practiced a series of exercises that Dewey, the nearly 6-year-old chocolate Labradoodle, needs to fully recover from the paralyzing effects of a blood clot that attacked his spine in late September.

Under the guidance of canine physical therapist Judy Coates, the girls took turns rotating Dewey’s right back leg for flexibility, gently pressing down on his rear end to stimulate blood flow and nerve function, and planting his right front paw — which from time to time still buckles a bit when he walks — square on the floor of school psychologist Tom Gamble’s office.

“The things I’m giving you,” Coates reminded them, “you can’t overdo.”

No argument from Dewey, who greeted them, and everyone else who entered the room, with a wag of the tail, a tilt of his smiling face and a steady stream of kisses.

It didn’t hurt that the girls and Coates and Gamble and Dewey’s owner, social-studies teacher Pam Custer, were giving him treats for each bit of progress.

“He was so happy to be back at school,” Custer said. “Since we brought him back, kids have been coming into Tom’s office to visit him, which he loves. They come by to cheer him up, hang out, do homework with him. … When he was in my classroom a couple of mornings last week, kids were going, ‘Dewey’s back!’ He’s more motivated by the interactions. This has been a crucial part of his healing.”

Dewey already has come a long way since late September, when he collapsed during a walk in the woods with Gamble.

“He was completely paralyzed on his right side,” Custer recalled. “He couldn’t stand or sit, let alone run. He couldn’t do anything.”

Dewey’s regular veterinarian, Dan Kelly at the Stonecliff Animal Clinic in Lebanon, recommended bringing the dog to the Maine Veterinary Medical Center in Portland, where neurologists diagnosed him with a fibrocartilaginous embolism in his spinal cord.

His treatment there cost almost $9,000, which Dewey’s supporters are aiming to recoup through a GoFundMe page set up by Gamble’s daughter Lucy, under the name “Help Dewey the Therapy Dog Walk Again.”

“We think this occurs when a piece of normal disc material becomes lodged within the (blood) vessel,” his medical report from the Maine clinic reads. “This can occur in any breed of dog at any age, but tends to occur in younger and more active dogs.”

That’s Dewey, all right.

“Prior to his injury, kids would show up early to school so they could play fetch with him,” Custer said. “It became a staple of his morning routine.”

The rest of the school day, Dewey alternated between welcoming students at Gamble’s office to visiting classrooms to help kids decompress from anxieties ranging from upcoming exams and sports playoff games to peer pressure.

“Sometimes he’s in the classroom, and it really helps to see him,” Berger said. “Petting any animal is a giant stress reliever, and Dewey is great at it.”

Dewey started working rooms almost as soon as Custer brought him to school in the spring of 2014 to work with Gamble, as a donation from the dog breeders at A Contented Life Farm in Sharon.

“He has been a nice new tool,” Gamble said. “There’s a subset of kids he’s really been critical for.”

Freshman Henry Richardson can attest. Even before coming to the high school this fall, he got to know — and love — Dewey while visiting with his father, who works at the school.

That made it all the more disorienting when he first heard about the dog’s injury, just a few weeks after starting his first quarter at the school.

“I was devastated,” Richardson said. “I felt like I was going to lose him.”

So did Custer and her husband, John, while guiding the 90-pound dog through his early at-home rehab with a set of special harnesses that allow them to lift his torso and his hindquarters like a suitcase.

“As happy as we were to get him home, it was so discouraging because he couldn’t stand up on his own,” Custer said. “Once we got him up on his feet, we would have to move his paw forward to get him to start walking. It took us a long time just to get him to the door. He’s had to learn, step by step, how (to walk) again, to get that muscle memory back. With that right front leg, he still doesn’t quite have a sense of that limb in space.”

What Dewey does have are lots of people willing to help him regain that and other senses. And Custer expects the rehabbers of Team Dewey to grow.

“He is an extraordinary dog, in his capacity to give, to love, and also his joy in being with kids,” she said. “That’s the spark in him.

“Just seeing kids absolutely brightens him up.”

Just ask junior B Graubert, who visited Gamble’s office before the physical-therapy session.

“Any time to see Dewey,” she said, “is a great time.”

The way kids are returning the favor brightens up Gamble, not only for Dewey’s sake but for the lessons in empathy and patience that they’re learning by helping him bounce back.

“That’s the way we felt right away,” Gamble said. “If you can camouflage the fact that you’re teaching them, you’re on your way.”

David Corriveau can be reached at dcorriveau@vnews.com or 603-727-3304.




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