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Meet Foster Milo Squires! / Photo by Beth Christian Broschart

What’s up, dood? Therapy dog Foster receives warm welcome at his ‘fur’-ever home

BUCKHANNON – Looking in the sparkling eyes of Buckhannon Academy Elementary School students Wednesday afternoon gave the impression it was Christmas morning once again. Each of the students held back their excitement as they waited for a special gift that was due to arrive from West Virginia Governor Jim Justice and First Lady Cathy Justice.

That gift arrived in four-legged fashion in the form of a golden Labradoodle named Foster Milo Squires, a therapy dog provided through the Friends with Paws Program.

To usher Foster into his ‘fur-ever’ home, Upshur County and BAES administrators created a ‘Pup Rally’ to welcome the pooch. Members of the Buckhannon-Upshur High School Jazz Band, Drumline and Cheerleaders gathered to help the younger students introduce themselves to the new therapy dog, who will serve as a healthy, friendly outlet for students in an effort to address trauma and support social-emotional well-being throughout Upshur County.

BAES students cheered, clapped and waved signs they had made in an effort to make Foster feel welcome and at home. Riley Ann Potter is a second-grade student at BAES, and she said she was so excited about Foster’s arrival.

“I really want to pet Foster,” Riley Ann said. “He looks so cute!”

Riley Ann said she has a dog at home named Maddie, who is 11 years old.

“I cannot wait to read to Foster,” Riley Ann said.

Equally excited are Foster’s handlers and pet parents, second-grade teacher Brittany Squires and physical education instructor Will Squires. The Squires family said this is an exciting time for them.

“We just wanted to play some part in making this happen,” Will Squires said. “We thought we could do more than simply encourage this. We thought we had the space and we had the time, so we were really excited to be Foster’s handlers. We wanted a dog anyway, so we thought, ‘what better way than to have a dog that has a special purpose.’ It has been really exciting going through the process to see what it would take to make it work. The best part is the service Foster will provide to the students.”

Brittany Squires said in a press release from the Upshur County Schools that she strives to create an environment in her classroom that promotes a sense of belonging, respect and value.

“My students will always know, above all else, that they are loved. Having a therapy dog in our school will help to expand that environment outside of my four walls and into the community as a whole. The unconditional love of a dog is an experience that all children should have the opportunity to feel. I am excited for Foster to meet the students of Upshur County and begin his work in fostering love, kindness and emotional support,” Brittany Squires said.

Although Governor Jim Justice and First Lady Cathy Justice were unable to attend Wednesday’s ‘Pup Rally,’ First Lady Cathy Justice joined in the fun via phone. She said she wants to travel to BAES in the next month to meet the students and Foster.

BAES Principal Susanne Britton expressed her gratitude to have been selected by West Virginia’s First Family, along with their team, to be a part of the ‘Friends with Paws’ program. BAES is the second West Virginia school to receive a therapy dog.

“This is a dream come true,” Britton shared. “We have envisioned having a therapy dog to support our ever-changing students’ needs, but it has been out of reach until now. We look forward to seeing the social, emotional and cognitive benefits as well as the joy that Foster will bring to us all. We are eager for his arrival to our school family and the entire Buckhannon-Upshur community.”

Buckhannon Mayor Robbie Skinner asked BAES students if they liked Foster and if they were happy Foster is in Buckhannon and his questions were answered with screams of ‘Yes!”

Buckhannon Mayor Robbie Skinner presents a key to the City of Buckhannon to Foster and his handlers, Brittany and Will Squires. Foster is the new therapy dog at Buckhannon Academy Elementary School, and he arrived at a welcoming ‘Pup Rally’ Wednesday. / Photo courtesy Randy Sanders, City of Buckhannon

“We are very happy to have Foster here,” Skinner said. “I have a special little treat that Foster cannot eat. This is my first time ever giving a key to the City of Buckhannon to a dog. Foster, we are so happy to have you here, what we are giving you is a most important award – a key to the City of Buckhannon. This opens everything including the secret stash of treats! We are a loving community and we are going to love Foster.”

BAES Assistant Principal Eric Brand gave a snapshot of how Foster came to be the top dog at BAES and said the process began in January.

“We were approached by Dr. Stankus who asked us what we thought about the idea of applying to have a therapy dog,” Bland said. “We had no hesitation in saying, ‘absolutely,’ so in February we had the opportunity to interview at the Governor’s Mansion to receive a therapy dog. During the interview, we knew we were competing with numerous schools and the interview just felt right. We were notified a few days later that we were chosen to be the recipient of the second therapy dog in the state through First Lady Justice’s initiative.”

Brand explained the hardest part was keeping the award a secret from family, friends and BAES staff members.

Many people wonder how Foster got his name. Brand said Foster came with that name, although they had discussed changing his name to Milo.

“Foster translates to mean ‘encourage, cherish and nurture,’ and we also liked the name Milo, which in German means ‘calm and peaceful,’” Brand said. “Now the word is officially out that Buckhannon Academy Elementary School is the owner of Foster Milo Squires whose mission will be to promote a nurturing sense of peace and calmness to Upshur County Schools by fostering everyone he is around with love, kindness and emotional support.”

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