Retiring therapy dog “graduates” alongside students

High School Therapy DogPrince, a 9-year-old golden retriever, is retiring after nearly five years of helping students at Portage High School in Illinois, and the occasion is being marked in traditional high school fashion. Prince’s photo was included in the annual yearbook, and he’ll join graduates in this weekend’s ceremony sporting a custom cap and gown. Bred by Lutheran Church Charities, Prince lives with his handler, school guidance counselor Tim Kunstek. “It’s pretty phenomenal how much the kids love him,” said Kunstek. Yahoo/Shine (6/6)

One very furry high school graduate was honored this week with a yearbook photo of his own.

Prince “the therapy dog,” bred by Lutheran Church Charities is a 9-year-old golden retriever who works in the guidance office at Portage High School in Indiana. He’s retiring and as a parting gift, he had a professional photo taken and published alongside the class of 2013.

“We’ve never done anything like this but it was a nice way to say goodbye to Prince,” Melissa Deavers-Lowie, Portage High School’s yearbook adviser, told Yahoo! Shine. “Parents and students thought it was so cute and funny. And on Sunday, he’ll lead the graduating class of 2013 onto the football field for the ceremony.” Naturally, he’ll be dressed for the part, wearing a custom-made red cap and gown.

“Prince comes to school and works with me in therapy groups,” Tim Kunstek, Portage High School’s guidance counselor and Prince’s handler, told Yahoo! Shine. “It’s pretty phenomenal how much the kids love him.”

Prince, who lives with Kunstek and his family in Portage, has worked a 9-5 gig for the past 4.5 years. Every day, he rides to school with Kunstek and spends his morning greeting students as they arrive at school. He also sits in on counseling sessions with Kunstek and his students, and patrols the hallways, making sure kids are going to class. During lunch, he hangs out in the cafeteria. “Kids would sit on the floor and feed him Tater Tots and other treats, but he started gaining weight, so we’ve scaled back on that,” said Kunstek. And Prince travels for work: In the wake of the tragic shootings in December at Sandy Hook Elementary School, he was on hand to ensure the children had a smoother transition back to school. “The kids at Sandy Hook loved him and all the other therapy dogs so much that Lutheran Church Charities is now trying to raise money for therapy dogs at Sandy Hook,” said Kunstek.

At the end of a long day, Prince heads home with Kunstek for dinner. Upon his retirement, he’ll remain with Kunstek and work part-time, possibly with kids. And he won’t be forgotten: His Facebook page boasts more than 1,500 likes and he keeps his friends updated with photos of his life at school and at home.

But Portage High School won’t be without a therapy dog for long. Isaiah, a 1-year-old golden retriever, is in training to be Prince’s replacement. “There’s something really calming about golden retrievers; they have a big effect on people,” said Kunstek.

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