A pug offers comfort and companionship at a boys school.
Rosie, a comfort to students like Miguel, is shown here at Eagleton School.The pug has become a major presence there.
Photos by Frania Caulfield
The tranquil forest setting of the Eagleton School provides a therapeutic backdrop for the boys who come here to learn and heal. Some are mentally fragile with mood or thought disorders, some have autism, others have learning disabilities, and still others have experienced overwhelming trauma. Eagleton is where they come to find help.
It’s also where they come to find joy and connection, thanks to a female named Rosie who has won the hearts of all the students there. Rosie isn’t a teacher. Or a counselor. Rosie isn’t even human. She’s a diminutive pug who, with her calm and doting demeanor, has become a major presence in the school, contributing to therapy, new-student transitions, and more.
Rosie’s owner, clinical director Maureen Pryjma, had no intention of enlisting a therapy dog. She just missed owning a pug, and so Rosie entered her life nearly three years ago. Pryjma soon realized that her schedule demanded she bring the dog to work with her every day. It turned out that the new pug puppy and the students all found this more than an agreeable arrangement.
One boy in particular, Jesus, now 16 and from Springfield, bonded with the puppy and moved into the caretaker role, protecting her from accidental harm, bringing her into classrooms for others to interact with, and taking her out for walks. Separated from his own family, Pryjma says, the relationship became a major motivator for Jesus, who says he has long felt much like a parent to Rosie.
“Always,” he pledges. “I will never not feel like that.”
It was Jesus who came up with the name—actually, Rosita—with the explanation that she made everyone “feel rosy inside.” The name, Rosie, stuck.
Part of Rosie’s function is as official greeter in the clinical offices. She is often one of the first encounters new students have when coming to the school. She gains such trust and offers such comfort that many students ask to have her as part of their sessions with Pryjma, who says that Rosie is exceptionally sensitive to student emotions and attentive to those who need her.
“At one point, she was following a student who was really angry down the hallway,” says Pryjma. “Rosie took the squeak toy and followed me in and just diffused that situation because she pestered that student so much with bouncing the squeak toy off his leg. Initially, he started to get angry with Rosie, and all of a sudden, he really started to laugh.”
Fourteen-year-old student Jaher, from Yonkers, New York, still remembers the first time he met Rosie and the impact she had. “I was going through a lot and she kept licking me and rubbing her head on me,” he says. “It made me feel much, much better. She helped me out a lot.”
Among Rosie’s other duties at the Great Barrington school is to take part in a weekly Skype session to Turkey with a student whose family lives there, as well as being part of lunchtime with students and visiting families. Rosie can also be an incentive for the boys to do their work—students are allowed to take her for a walk once they finish assignments. Pryjma believes that Rosie gets as much out of the interaction as the students do.
“It’s really mutual bonding,” Pryjma says. “Rosie is very upset when Saturday and Sunday come, and we’re not going to school. I just say to her each morning, “Are you ready to go to school, Rosie?” and she hops down from wherever she is, ready to be a part of Eagleton’s life.”
It’s for all these reasons that Pryjma decided to create Rosie’s Story, a storybook with photographs that traces Rosie’s birth and arrival at the Eagleton School, as well as her introduction to and bonding with the students there, most notably Jesus. At first, Pryjma just wanted to have the book as a way of expressing Rosie’s story to those who took an interest, but it began to serve a bigger purpose. The book is sold at the St. Francis Gallery in South Lee, which Pryjma’s husband owns, and proceeds from sales go to the Berkshire Humane Society. A link to the book also can be found at eagletonschool.com.
Around the time of Rosie’s arrival, the school widened its scope and began to service students from faraway places who might approach their new surroundings with trepidation. “It wasn’t the original intent, but it certainly is another way in which Rosie is a part of the whole intake process and really easing that for students,” Pryjma says. “They’ve read the Rosie story, so she’s the first thing they look for.”
That meeting with Rosie sets a tone for the rest of their time at Eagleton and cements her practical importance in their lives, though she hasn’t actually been hired as staff—yet.