The 165-pound Newfoundland works his magic daily with abused and neglected children.
The toddlers spot him the instant he steps out of his office. They swarm him like bees, shouting his name:
“Archie! Archie! Archie!”
He drops to the ground, eye-level with 3-year-olds. They lean into him, hug him, climb on him.
At Casa Pacifica, a Ventura County, California oasis for abused, neglected and emotionally disturbed children, patience and calm aren’t just virtues; they’re job requirements.
Archie has worked at the leafy campus in Camarillo for two years, and he doesn’t flinch when small hands pull his ears and wandering fingers poke his nostrils.
Instead, he bestows slobbery kisses with a pink tongue as large as a hand towel.
“Yucky!” the kids squeal, hugging the 165-pound dog all the harder.
Archie was Vicki Murphy’s idea. Her boss, Steven Elson, a psychologist and Casa Pacifica’s executive director, was initially skeptical of so-called therapy dogs.
Her husband was doubtful for different reasons; he knew where the massive canine, who looks like an extra-fuzzy black bear but is actually a Newfoundland, would spend nights and weekends.
But Murphy, 51, Casa Pacifica’s director of operations and development, had watched dogs work magic with children before. A former private school teacher, she once raised a puppy in her classroom.
If dogs could teach privileged children about responsibility and nurturing, Murphy mused, maybe they could help kids whose human role models had failed them utterly.
Besides, she’d said to her husband when they picked up the 9-week-old Archie, then a cubbish 26 pounds, “How big can he get?”
Some children are initially frightened of Archie. They quickly get over it.“When we see really large creatures, we tend at first to be taken aback,” said Howard Miller, a Casa Pacifica therapist. “But Archie is a very lovable-looking and acting dog. Immediately the kids sense someone who is warm and cuddly. Being near him gives them a great sense of security.”
Wired teenagers walk out their frustrations next to Archie. Lonely adolescents sit beside him on the green lawn, arms draped across his broad back.
Kids who are having trouble in school practice reading aloud to him, choosing from a library of books about Newfies.
A toddler who was 11 months old when she arrived at Casa Pacifica spoke her first word there: “Archie.”
As for the drooling, Murphy and the other staffers have learned to live with what the kids call Archie’s “schnarf.” Murphy bought stacks of white cotton shop towels, and everyone from the receptionist to Elson keeps one nearby to wipe slobber off walls, desks and laps.A local quilting group has made 20 Newfoundland-size bibs, embroidered with Archie’s name or phrases such as “World’s Greatest Smoocher.” He has a Valentine’s bib and one for St. Patrick’s Day. For the Casa Pacifica “prom,” Archie wore a tuxedo bib with a boutonniere.
At Casa Pacifica, Archie starts each day by greeting everyone who works there. Unfolding from the back seat of Murphy’s Chrysler in the morning (her husband was right about those nights and weekends), he pokes his big, square head into every office before posting himself at the door to await the children.
Story Link: LA Times