Beloved therapy dog Katie, who worked with students at Wait Primary School in Streetsboro, dies

by Mike Lesko | reporter Published:

Streetsboro -- When Andrew Teitel was a student at Wait Primary School, he was uncomfortable around loud noises like fire alarms during school fire drills. So Katie, a black Labrador retriever therapy dog belonging to now-retired teacher Dave Beahn, was brought to Andrew's side when fire drills took place.

"Katie made me feel better," said Andrew, now a third-grader at Campus Elementary School. "I felt a little bit braver by having her there."

When Jake Butler, who has autism, was a student at Wait, Katie's influence made him want to read.

"Katie made Jake do something he normally wouldn't want to do," said his mother, Kelly Butler. "She got him to do something that was difficult for him."

Katie, who accompanied Beahn to Wait classes for 10 years starting when she was a puppy, died Jan. 12 after suffering complications with her vertebrae that prevented her from walking. She was 11.

"We loved her," Wait secretary Sue Stockard said. "She was the most calm, relaxed dog around kids I've ever met. She greeted the kids every morning. There would be a swarm of children, and she would be so calm. She really was a part of the staff."

Katie went to classes at Wait through the end of the 2010-11 school year when Beahn retired. Beahn and Katie were in Florida when the dog died.

"I knew there was something special about Katie and our school when it became difficult to get her to go to my truck at the end of our school day to go home," Beahn said. "She didn't want to leave.

"The morning was the opposite," Beahn said. "She would get very excited in the car as soon as we turned onto Page Road. She loved coming to school and loved the kids."

BethAnn Hepburn, a music teacher at Henry Defer Intermediate School, said most of the students in the district knew Katie.

"We lost a very important member of our staff," Stockard said. "She has touched so many lives, both of students and staff, in the years she was here. She helped so many students in different ways. Students who had trouble reading aloud were able to read separately to Katie."

Starting out at Wait

Beahn acquired Katie from a residential home after spotting a newspaper advertisement, according to Marcia Hopkins, a Wait first-grade teacher. Katie was about 4 months old.

"Katie had stayed a little longer with her mom than a lot of dogs," Hopkins said. "Dave felt that was why she was so well behaved."

Beahn began bringing Katie, a certified therapy dog, to Wait after receiving permission from former principal Karen Frank.

"Katie did so well with the kids that she was allowed to stay here," said Sandy Mercer, a Wait kindergarten teacher.

Beahn, who mainly taught first- and second grade at Wait, was also a special education teacher at Streetsboro High School before coming to Wait. He was a Streetsboro educator for 30 years.

According to parent Karyn Hall, Beahn wanted to bring Katie to Wait because he said children would relax around her, and that she served as a motivator for them to read. Preschoolers would also come to visit Katie.

Katie's many benefits

Beahn said school became Katie's second home, and she kept close watch on the students.

"She never barked at school," Beahn said. "But one day, she got up and started barking in the hall, and the teachers came out of their rooms to check what the commotion was all about.

"We discovered there was a man working on the roof who had come through the back door into the building," Beahn said. "The door was only to be used as an emergency exit at the time. She was clearly keeping watch on us there at Wait."

"Katie had lots of personality and spunk, yet she was calm at the same time," Hopkins said. "I don't know how, but she did. She just had a special way. The students just adored her. If students were agitated, upset or frustrated, Katie would sit next to them, and they would reach down and pet her, then they'd get right back on task. Katie had a sixth sense. She was a very perceptive dog. Everyone wanted to be in Katie's class."

Hepburn said Wait students who needed boosts of self esteem were purposely placed in Beahn's classroom.

"We noticed a big difference," Hepburn said. "There was an excitement level at the school. She made such an impact on so many of the students. In her last few years in the building, Katie could work with students with multiple disabilities, which was fabulous."

Katie worked with a young girl who had trouble communicating and difficulty developing relationships, but she experienced a breakthrough after bonding with Katie, educators said.

"Dave also found ways to use Katie for lessons," Hepburn said. "For example, they would do units of math based on counting cups of her dog food."

Every school day, Katie would come to the Wait main office to visit Stockard and office aide Val Chaney.

"We had treats in our desk drawers, and Katie knew exactly where they were," Chaney said. "After she got the treats, she would nudge the drawers until they were closed."

"She'd go down the hallways," Hepburn said, "and she had certain home rooms where she'd stop for treats. She had her own routine."

Hepburn said Katie would let people know if she needed to go outside by jingling a bell in Beahn's classroom, and someone, often a student, would grab a plastic bag and accompany her out the door.

Beahn said Katie loved being on the school playground to chase balls.

"Her favorite time was to go to recess when she heard the kids out on the playground," Beahn said. "She would always look out the window."

Away from school, Katie enjoyed car rides, walks and even swimming at the beach.

"Our day did not get started until Katie showed up," Chaney said. "She was a huge morale booster for the staff. She made us all so happy. It was privilege to have her in the school."

Retirement

Stockard said it was "a big loss" to have Beahn retire, which meant Katie would no longer be at the school.

"That's how much we loved her here," Stockard said.

In retirement, Beahn and Katie lived to Florida while keeping a house in Tallmadge. Beahn became a volunteer teacher in Florida and was able to take Katie with him.

Beahn and Katie had been gone from Wait about 1 1/2 years when Katie died.

"There will never be another dog like Katie," Chaney said. "She seemed like a person."

Stockard added, "God love Mr. Beahn for sharing Katie with all our students for all those years."

In honor of Katie, Henry Defer Intermediate School art teacher Samantha Copthorne had her students create a card/art project for Beahn.

Also, Streetsboro schools are collecting non-perishable items for the Portage County Animal Protective League in honor of Katie. There are drop-off boxes in the school lobbies, and there is a link on the Portage County APL website for cash donations. Go on the website to www.portageapl.org.

Email: mlesko@recordpub.com

Phone: 330-541-9439

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