Bijou: More Than a Therapy Dog

By Madeleine Spanbauer, Staff Writer

A shrine to Bijou, the dog in the heart, on the first floor of the West Building.

Payton was fortunate to have been home to Bijou, the golden doodle who helped many students through academic and emotional endeavors. Bijou was there for everyone; whether you needed a hug during finals week, or just an encouraging snuggle, she was there for you. She truly impacted the Payton community with her kindness and affection. Her recent passing has led teachers, like Ms. Spencer, to put up a memorial for her.

Therapy dogs can be immensely helpful to students who are struggling with their mental health. Cameron Smith ‘23 said, “I think it’s important to keep therapy dogs around. Their love and acceptance is life-changing for someone who might’ve not had any emotional or physical support for years.” With their presence alone, dogs are able to reduce stress and anxiety. This explains why Bijou was such an important part of finals week.

Ms. Spencer, who worked closely with Bijou daily at school, said, “She had a tremendous impact on peoples’ lives. She was a constant; she came [to Payton] pretty much every day. People knew that if they were having problems and just wanted to pet a dog to regulate their own emotions… that was something [they could do].” She also said, “I wanted to model for my students the grief process [after her passing]. It is okay for them to see me cry, to see me decorate and put her picture up and make it really special. I think it works, and I know that some of them are still processing at their own speed, but I see them out there and they are coloring the rocks and writing messages and coloring pictures for her.” Ms. Spencer was very devoted to properly taking care of Bijou.

“Bijou taught us all empathy, patience and continuous love unconditionally,” Ms. Bertoni-Mancine, who would visit Ms. Spencer and Bijou weekly, began. “Bijou also helped integrate students with special needs into the general population. Bijou also was a great teacher to all of us. I love dogs, so of course I loved Bijou. Bijou was the most empathetic dog and very patient with everything we do here at Payton.”

Rocks decorated by students to commemorate Bijou’s legacy.

Mr. General, one of the special education teachers at Payton, expressed similar sentiments.“Bijou was a daily reminder of what’s good in this world. In times of student distress, she would routinely come to me and give a nudge that it’s time to spread ‘the calm.’” He added that, “I know Bijou was an invaluable part of our classroom, soothing behaviors and changing outcomes for the better. So much so that we would normally have quick visits from countless gen ed students that needed a quick pet or a calming influence as part of their own coping mechanism. I’ve been working on the frontline of special education for the better part of two decades now. In nearly all of my work settings, a therapy animal of some sort, has been instrumental in helping the instructional environment for students who learn differently. I have never seen a distraction or negative associated with having a therapy dog… It’s always positive.”

Marissa Strauss ‘23 attested to Bijou’s impact on the Payton community. “Bijou was always this friendly dog you would see around the school, and all the students would smile in her presence. She lit up every room with smiles, whether it be students or teachers,” Strauss ‘23 said. “Bijou positively affected our community and created a sense of togetherness and joy. Bijou would always come around for some rubs and scratches and wanted the students’ attention most of the time to cheer them up.”

Another student who felt the presence of Bijou is Lily Suskind ‘23. “Bijou was a source of love for me,” Suskind ‘23 said. “Her presence calmed the whole school, and anybody who saw her would immediately be filled with joy. Dogs at school are incredibly helpful for so many students.”

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