Spiffy, an English cream golden retriever, recently graduated from Scotch Plains-Fanwood High School in New Jersey as part of the Class of 2023. While Spiffy wore a small graduation cap and walked across the stage with the human graduates, he is actually a therapy dog in the Scotch Plains-Fanwood school district's pet therapy program.
Dr. Joan Mast, the superintendent of the school district and Spiffy's owner, recognized the special bond between Spiffy and the graduating class. Spiffy began his therapy dog career when the students entered high school, and they have formed a strong connection over the years.
Dr. Mast was inspired to introduce therapy dogs to the school district after attending a roundtable discussion with superintendents from across the United States. Witnessing the positive impact of therapy canines in other districts, she wanted Scotch Plains-Fanwood Public Schools to benefit from the love and positivity that a dog brings.
Due to the pandemic and remote learning, Dr. Mast took the opportunity in 2020 to bring Spiffy into her home and start training him as a therapy pet. With minimal distractions, Spiffy completed his training and became a certified therapy dog in May 2022.
Robin Broadbent, Dr. Mast's executive assistant, also became a certified therapy dog handler to provide consistent care for Spiffy when Dr. Mast's schedule becomes demanding. Spiffy has befriended many students in the school district and has become a beloved figure, bringing comfort and support to the students and staff.
At graduation, Spiffy received a warm reception from the audience. While he enjoyed the attention from his graduating friends, his favorite part of the event was cheering on his human classmates.
Following graduation, Spiffy will continue his work as a therapy pet for Scotch Plains-Fanwood Public Schools. He will be available for visits, attend club meetings, and provide comfort during read-alongs. Spiffy will remain a part of the school community, interacting with students and participating in various activities.
The Class of 2023 and Spiffy have just begun their journeys. As the students become SPF alumni, Spiffy will continue to support and interact with future students. His schedule is already filling up for the upcoming school year, and Dr. Mast and Spiffy are excited to continue their important work together.