Perhaps the most popular staff member at L.J. Hauser Junior High School walks on four legs. That would be Lily Beth, a 4-year-old Labradoodle, who comes to Hauser three times a week before school starts and at dismissal just to be a friendly presence and to bring some happiness and comfort to a middle schooler’s day.
Most Hauser students enjoy seeing Lily Beth, and their faces light up as they stop to pet her or say hello to her.
“I like having the dog here,” said eighth grader Madison Myslinski. “It makes me want to come school every morning.”
Lilly Beth’s owner is Nicole Tamburrino, the parent of a Hauser seventh grader and a fourth grader at Central School. A social worker, Tamburrino said she She first became interested about the possibilities of dogs working with kids approximately 20 years ago when she was at Lurie Children’s Hospital, which brought dogs in brighten the day for hospitalized kids.
“It was really a huge passion of mine, to see the dogs light up the faces of kids,” Tamburrino told the Landmark.
Tamburrino thought Lily Beth would work well with kids, so she put the dog through a therapy training program run by Pet Partners, an organization promoting the health benefits of animals and people interacting.
Pet Partners registers nine species of animals as therapy pets, and Lily Beth earned certification as a therapy dog.
Former Hauser math teacher Deb Falleti, who now teaches advanced learning at Hollywood School, put Tamburrino in touch with Hauser Principal April Mahy, and now Lily Beth is a regular presence at the school and even has her own staff identification card.
Tamburrino thought students in middle school, often a time of high drama and emotional peaks and valleys for kids, would especially benefit from Lily Beth’s friendly presence.
“I think sixth through eighth grade are really hard years, and I think it’s a really cool opportunity to help kids who are having a really hard time learning about themselves, learning about others, developing different friendships,” Tamburrino said. “I feel we just need a way to take the edge off a little bit and help the kids just be kids.”
Tamburrino thinks Lily Beth makes a noticeable impact on kids at Hauser, some of whom flock to pet and say hello at the beginning and end of the day.
“There’s been a lot of kids here who are having hard mornings, and then they see her there and they smile,” said Tamburrino, adding some students make it a point to see Lily before they head home from school.
Tamburrino says that Lily Beth can sense people’s emotions and act accordingly. She will play with happy kids and soothe an upset kid.
“Animals help regulate your nervous system and they help regulate and understand behavior,” Tamburrino said. “So, when kids are having a hard time, the animals can respond to that and help kids learn about their behavior.”
When Lily Beth is done with her shift at Hauser she is tuckered out and might take a nap at home.
“She’s feeling the energy of the kids and when she goes home, she’s pretty tired,” Tamburrino said. “I think she really understands when she’s working here as opposed to when she’s here to just hang out.”
Lily Beth was a particular comfort to eighth grader Louie Jara last week after his grandfather died, just sitting with him for a bit.
“She is an amazing dog,” said Jara after spending a few moments with Lily Beth on a recent Friday afternoon. “It’s like she is always there when I need her.”