EAST HELENA -- For one little girl at Radley Elementary School, Wednesday morning was one of terrifying back-to-school jitters.

It’s moments like this when principal Joe McMahon knows he can call on Governor.

There’s nothing like a lick on the hand, a friendly nudge and a wagging tail to chase a child’s tears and anxiety away.

Now 7 months old, Governor, who started at the school last year, is already a beloved staff member.

Wednesday morning he was in Vashti Teders’ special education classroom, Room 24, sticking his head out the door for friendly greets and meets.

But once he’s on call, he dons his blue service vest and he’s all business, which is helping kids get through hard, emotional times.

Dressed in his vest, he padded down to the front door with Teders to greet the little girl.

As Teders gently spoke with her and introduced Governor, the girl gradually relaxed enough to walk down the hall to Room 24.

Ten minutes later, she was able to tell Governor to sit, pet his head and give him treats.

A wobbly smile finally flitted across the girl’s face.

As Governor worked his magic, fifth grade teacher Liz Townsend looked on from the hallway.

“Isn’t that cool?” she said. “The kids get around him and calm down immediately. He’s a very popular fellow.”

Within a few minutes, the girl was able to walk Governor down the hall to her classroom and then walk in on her own.

Governor sits by children during school assemblies to help them calm down, said McMahon.

And when children are screaming, crying or striking out, Governor can walk in and calm them much faster than any of the staff, said Teders.

Some children used to take 45 minutes or longer to calm down, say Teders and McMahon, but Governor can do it within about 5 minutes.

“It is phenomenal to watch,” said Teders. “He has an innate ability to comfort people.”

“It’s been a great experience,” she added. “He’s been here since he was 10 weeks old. He loves coming to work. He’s probably the most excited employee here.”

“My job is to think outside of the box,” said Teders. “I have to be a Mary Poppins. I love that about my job.”

Governor just happened to be one of her out-of-the-box ideas that two Carroll College Anthrozoology students and the Helena Kennel Club made happen.

“We had to be open that it may not work,” Teders said, but he’s exceeded all expectations.

Governor and his job description seem to be unique in Helena area schools, say both Teders and Erica Feuerbacher, a professor in the Carroll College Anthrozoology Department. In fact, Teders can't find any school district in Montana using a dog like Governor.

Teders calls him a “facility dog.” He’s not really a “service dog” because he works with all of the students -- as needed, instead of one specific person.

And he’s not quite a "therapy dog," she said, because he learns specific tasks for special needs. So he’s more a blend of a service and a therapy dog, thus his special job description.

”He does amazing things,” said para educator Debbie Dunlap. “It’s just instinct. He seems to know when kids need extra reassurance. He’s such a blessing to us.”

Reporter Marga Lincoln can be reached at 447-4083 marga.lincoln@helenair.com

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