POCOMOKE CITY – Pocomoke High School’s (PHS) therapy dog has won a national competition that brings awareness to canines that work in a school setting.
In a competition that took place late last month, Rudy, the high school’s therapy dog, went up against dogs around the nation to secure a spot as winner of the Pets Best Pet Health Insurance “Books and Barks” contest.
Rudy’s handler and PHS guidance counselor Jessi Bova said she nominated Rudy for the contest after someone notified PHS Principal Annette Wallace of the competition on Twitter.
Since 2014, Pets Best has hosted an annual competition that recognizes and awards the work of school therapy dogs. Canines that are chosen as finalists then rely on votes to win the online contest.
Bova said she submitted a 250-word response detailing Rudy’s impact on the lives of PHS students.
“He definitely brings a sense of joy to the building,” she said. “He kind of lightens the mood. He is something the students and staff look forward to.”
Shortly after nominating Rudy, Bova said the organization notified her that Rudy had made it as a finalist.
From there, Bova said students, staff and community members were tasked with voting for Rudy during the last week of March.
“It was all on Facebook, the way you voted,” she said. “So we did a lot of advertising on Facebook and Rudy was on the morning announcements promoting it and the students were reminded to vote at lunch and each morning.”
Unlike the three other finalists, a golden retriever from Colorado, a miniature schnauzer from Texas and a Great Pyrenees from Ohio, Bova said Rudy was the only therapy dog from a high school.
“The things we do in high school are different than the things that they were doing,” she said. “He comes every day for full days and some of the other dogs were there for the reading programs or they might be there for different amounts of time.”
Bova said Rudy garnered more than 2,000 online votes from the contest and won the school $1,000 for winning the competition. Bova also received $500 to donate to an animal nonprofit.
Although the school has yet to decide how it will use the $1,000-dollar prize, Bova said she has split her winnings between the Worcester County Humane Society and Pets on Wheels of Delmarva, the organization through which Rudy was certified as a therapy dog.
Although the competition is over, Bova said Rudy continues to attract attention from guidance counselors and students who heard of him through the contest.
For example, Bova said two students from Howard County and New Jersey contacted her about Rudy shortly following the competition. The first, she said, was a high school junior, and the second was a sixth-grade student. Both were doing research projects on therapy dogs.
“It’s neat that people are finding Pocomoke High School and Rudy through their searches for a school project,” she said.
Although the school enjoys the bragging rights, Bova said the biggest reward was the attention all the therapy dogs received.
“There is definitely a heightened awareness about therapy dogs from the contest that I’ve seen,” she said, “It’s been neat to talk to them about Rudy and about him being a rescue dog and the benefits of having dogs at school.”
Wallace said she was proud of her four-legged staff member and his handler.
“It’s so exciting that in his first month here he gets an award,” she said. “What he does for our kids is great. It’s nice to see him be recognized for all his hard work and the hard work of his handler. She’s pretty great too.”