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Furry friends offer love
At Stafford Middle School, a couple of golden retrievers are part of the school's crisis team.

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Date published: 4/14/2004


AMID THE BUZZ of activity during a lunch period at Stafford Middle School last week, a special guest sitting on the edge of the cafeteria stage began to attract a crowd.

And this blond guy was quite a babe magnet.

Gathered around the well-mannered visitor were about a dozen students--mostly female--who were smiling, gently stroking his head and hoping for a wet kiss on the cheek.

Brad Pitt, perhaps? Justin Timberlake? Eminem?

Not even close.

No, this crowd-pleaser was Wile E, a 7-year-old golden retriever who belongs to Kris Campesi, an eighth-grade physical science teacher at the school.

Campesi and her two dogs--Wile E and Buddy, a 5-year-old golden retriever--belong to Spiritkeepers, the local chapter of Therapy Dogs International Inc. And they visited Stafford Middle last week as part of a Student Council Association community service project to raise $500 for the nonprofit group.

The two dogs--both with laid-back, fun-loving temperaments--clearly were a hit with the students. During the school's lunch breaks, the two visitors smiled and licked hands and faces inside, and then frolicked and fetched in the sunshine outside.

But there was more to the visit than just grins and games. The handlers and dogs that represent Spiritkeepers have an important role to play in the community by bringing love and companionship wherever they are needed. The group's visiting list includes 24 regional facilities, including hospitals, nursing homes, shelters and assisted-living centers.

And now the program is expanding into area schools.

On two occasions in recent years, after the death of beloved staff members at Stafford Middle, Campesi has brought her therapy dogs into classrooms to help comfort grieving students.

"Using dogs for grief therapy is somewhat new in the schools," Campesi said. "But the administration has been very supportive. And it really seems to mean a lot to the students. Some of the kids just need a hug and a cry."

Campesi, who has taught at Stafford Middle for 15 years, has written an article about being a part of the school's crisis team for Therapy Dogs International Magazine. She has an extensive background with dogs. For more than 20 years, she was involved with dog breeding, shows, obedience training and even sled-dog racing.

"But all of those things seemed to be 'me' oriented," she said.

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