Standing behind a group of children, intently watching them giggling and throwing leaves at each other, is a pair of Burmese Mountain dogs, Piper and Bugs. One could say that these dogs are just two more kids attending A Child’s Center preschool in Truckee. They learn from the children as much as the children learn from them.
While Piper is a normal 5-year old dog, Bugs, who is five months old, was born with a cleft nose and astigmatism in both eyes. She can see 8 feet at best but at night is completely blind. Bugs has no mental handicaps and Gia White, co-owner of A Child’s Center, thinks she might even be a little smarter than other dogs because she has to compensate in so many ways.
White knew that she had ample love to give to a special needs dog and that her preschool, co-owned with Janet Wees, was an exceptional place to raise one. White already owned Piper, and the breeder where she came from called White three months ago in the hopes that she could take a 7-week old puppy that was born with medical issues.
The breeder explained that many others in this situation would have put this particular dog down. They both agreed that even this dog deserved love, even though the dog will be prone to medical issues and possibly live a shorter life as a result of her congenital health issues. White felt the preschool setting was an ideal place for Bugs. In a household with other dogs, Bugs would be the weakest; but with a gentle, caring dog like Piper to guide her and with the loving preschool children around her, she would thrive. It was also an opportunity for the children to learn about judgment and acceptance.
Bugs walks with her head tilted to the side, her eyes sometimes jiggle, and her cleft nose exposes her teeth, which are visible through her nose. White sees how children are so innocent and still see good in everyone, while learning lessons so easily.
“At 3 and 4 years old, children start to notice when someone is different, but they move on quickly and accept it,” White said. “It opens the door to talk about bullying, and the dog can be a metaphor.”
One of White’s 3-year old students asked her why Bug’s nose looks different from other dogs. White responded by saying that everyone is born different.
White’s 8-year old daughter, Ella Mandy, has learned lessons in compassion from Bugs. When the dog mistakenly runs into walls, Mandy gets distraught, but at the same time it teaches her empathy for other living things.
Both dogs are on the same schedule as the kids, including nap and play time. Piper makes herself comfortable right in the middle of the sleeping kids, and when Bugs is older she will be joining them. For now, she sleeps in the other room so her playfulness doesn’t disturb the sleeping children.
No one knows how long of a life Bugs will have, but one thing is for certain — she will be loved by many and will make a difference in children’s lives as she teaches them important life lessons.
“We are all different outside and inside, but we deserve nothing but love,” White said.
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