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How a dog named Bruce is helping support middle school students in Lake Stevens

Two-year-old Bruce is a soothing member of the staff that builds a safe bridge between adults and students. (Photo: KOMO News)

LAKE STEVENS, Wash. -- There’s a new canine companion at Lake Stevens Middle School that’s beloved by students.

During lunchtime on Tuesday, students gathered around Bruce - a golden retriever, lab mix and trained assistance dog - who does best in group settings.

“We like to really nurture the social and emotional growth of our kids in addition to the academic pieces,” said Lisa Sanchez, principal at Lake Stevens Middle School. “There’s a lot going on for kids these days –some are struggling with anxiety, depression and different trauma issues.”

That’s where Bruce comes in. The two-year-old dog is a soothing member of the staff that builds a safe bridge between adults and students.

“There’s a lot of stigma around, 'I need to talk to the counselor,' and there’s no stigma around, 'I need to come pet Bruce,'” said Hannah Herkert, the student support mental health specialist at Lake Stevens Middle School.

Herkert said more students have been coming into the counseling center, petting Bruce and talking with him while she’s there. The dog, in many cases, takes the pressure off when kids need to talk about difficult issues.

“Having him here just invites so many more students in then would have typically shown up or asked for help,” said Herkert.

Bruce is also the highlight in Herkert’s class called “homeroom” where kids are greeted by name and acknowledged by teachers and peers.

“Just petting him makes me feel okay with talking to anybody about anything,” said Lucie Grimes, a 6th grader at Lake Stevens Middle School.

Students who may be struggling to talk to an adult or with the pressures of being a pre-teen are now finding confidence because of a canine called Bruce.

“My hope is that we can really see a positive healthy climate. It’s something that’s really important to us here at Lake Steven’s Middle School,” said Sanchez.

After intensive training and a two year wait, Herkert was paired with Bruce this summer through Canine Companions for Independence. Canine Companions provides free, trained assistance dogs to people or organizations with special physical or emotional needs.

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