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Hopedale - Local Town Pages

Bright Beginnings Center Partners with Golden Opportunities For Independence to Bring Therapy Dog to School

It is hard to miss the smiles on students’ faces when 3-month old Golden Retriever Sunny enters the classrooms at the Bright Beginnings Center in Hopedale. Students love the calming presence the cream colored puppy brings to their classrooms and enjoy sharing a pet or snuggle with him on Fridays at BBC. 

Sunny is a therapy dog in training with Golden Opportunities for Independence (GOFI), a nonprofit organization out of Walpole that breeds, raises, and trains English Type Golden Retrievers as service dogs, community resource dogs, and, like Sunny, facility therapy dogs. Sunny will train with GOFI for one full year before becoming fully certified to work in school full time. At this time he attends training Monday through Thursday and then visits BBC on Friday to get used to the school environment and spend time with the students. 

According to BBC Principal Kristen Poisson, Sunny is already having lasting effects, “On his first day he came in and laid next to a little girl who had been crying after drop off. She pet him for a few minutes and was instantly feeling better about being at school. It’s amazing to see how he understands his work at such a young age.”

It is the hope of the BBC staff that Sunny will continue to be integrated into the classrooms throughout the upcoming year and beyond. Over the summer staff members worked to create a set of lessons for social emotional learning that incorporate Sunny into programming. It is also planned to use Sunny as a calming tool for students who are upset or dealing with change at school or home. Sunny will participate in whole class lessons, small group work, and visit with students one on one as needed. 

School Adjustment Kelly Alley says, “Sunny brings a sense of calm to the classrooms. He’s soothing to kids who are dysregulated with no judgement. He loves them no matter what kind of day they’re having or what kind of behaviors they might be showing and they know that.”

Golden Opportunities for Independence has placed dogs in several school districts across the state, as well as with police departments as Community Resource Dogs, dogs who work alongside officers and serve as comfort dogs in the line of duty. It is clear that GOFI’s dogs have served a clear purpose in bringing communities together and helping individuals with a variety of needs since the program’s inception 20 years ago. 

For Sunny, his time at BBC will continue to increase throughout the year as he passes his Puppy STAR Test at six months of age and the Canine Good Citizen Test at one year old. As he gains more experience, his training decreases and his time at BBC increases, something his young friends certainly look forward to. 

“The students ask for Sunny everyday,” Poisson says, “and everyday that he isn’t in the building we usually have at least one situation, even minor ones, where I think, ‘I wish Sunny was here for this.’ His presence alone helps de-escalate and bring a sense of calm to our classrooms.”

Sunny was adopted by Poisson and her family and resides with them in Hopedale when not at training and school. BBC and their parent group the Friends of Bright Beginners have worked to fundraise and secure grant funding to cover the cost of the year long training program that will allow Sunny to continue helping students for years to come. They continue to accept donations through Sunny’s kindful account directly through GOFI by going to and selecting «Support Sunny in Hopedale» from the dropdown menu. Those interested in following Sunny and his journey can find him on Instagram @SunnytheBBCdog.