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Faculty Dogs and Their Humans: Who’s Teaching Whom?

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Stories, know-how, and guidance from the experts in educating boys.

Photography by Jacqueline Keller; Written by Kristen Kerwin

Faculty Dogs and Their Humans: Who’s Teaching Whom?

Like many dog owners, I feel great pride in teaching my dog to do remarkable feats such as the "sit," the "shake-a-paw," and of course, the ever-satisfying “now speak!”—all for a measly little (grain-free human-grade) treat. Although she gobbles up those overpriced tidbits of goodness in a heartbeat, I wonder if my dog could also be educating herself to perform for the sheer love of learning. Or, perhaps she is secretly just humoring me so I can feel like a more accomplished human. I don’t speak dog, so I guess I’ll never know.

One human who did seem to be proficient in the mysterious language of dogs was Donald Pierpont, the former Headmaster of the New England private school for boys, Avon Old Farms. In his life tribute book, a dean stated: “[Pierpont’s] same mystical quality had an amazing effect on animals. He professed an ability to talk with dogs and all the dogs on campus would stop by for a chat” (Dr. George Kinkade, The Life of Donald Pierpont).

Donald Pierpont and his dogs

During the foundational years of Pierpont’s leadership from 1947-1968, his own beloved dogs were a staple sight against the signature brick of the school’s renowned architecture. Alumnus Geoff Doughty from the Class of 1968 reveled in the memory of the Headmaster's dog even participating in his admission interview! He fondly recalled, “Don loved dogs, and getting down on the floor with them was not unusual.” Pierpont owned several Cavalier King Charles Spaniels, a mutt named Scampi, and the unmissable beast Sy—short for Citation.

Obviously Pierpont understood that humans, and yes, even the teacher-variety of human, can learn a thing or two from our four-legged friends. According to Psychology Today, when a person pets a friendly dog, they show marked evidence of relaxation, such as a slower heart rate, lower blood pressure, more relaxed breathing and reduced muscle tension.

Pierpont, along with his dogs, set a warm and approachable tone on the campus, an atmosphere that exists to this day: there's no shortage of tender-hearted and energetic dogs on the campus of Avon Old Farms School. A majority of the faculty at the CT high school for boys live amidst the flurry of activity that happens at a boarding school, and their lovable dogs are an integral part of community life.

We checked in with some of our faculty dogs here on campus and then asked their owners to share what they have learned from their canine pals:

Hick and Mike Symes '81

"Head down; nose to the ground; keep on moving."

Mike is the Assistant Dean of Students and a science teacher.

Fausto and Kimberley and Jonathan Crocker

"A big smile and enthusiasm always make a greeting better."

Kimberley is the Director of Parent Relations and Special Initiatives and Jonathan is the Director of College Counseling. 

Juno and Rob Werner

"Consistency."

Rob is an English teacher.

Rowdy and Kimberly and Rob '87 Whitty

"I think this world would be a brighter place if we modeled our attitudes after Rowdy...wake up happy, go to bed happy, and love the people around us."

Kimberly is Avon's Admission Assistant and Rob is an Academic Dean, Director of Campus Security and a math teacher.

Gus and John Spearman

"To keep things on the down-low."

John is a Latin and history teacher.

Tuke and Alison and Shelton Magee

"A long walk makes everyone feel better; Roombas are life-changing."

Alison is a science teacher and Shelton is a history teacher.

Picasso and Darell Tibbles

"What is really important: family and slowing down."

Darell is the World Languages Department Chair and the Mandarin Chinese teacher.

Samson and Kimberly Finn Bolster and Chris Bolster

"Sometimes life is tough, but you get through it."

Kimberly is a science teacher and robotics coach and Chris is an English teacher and Director of Theater.

Ogie and Ryan Davey

"Patience."

Ryan is a Latin, English, and digital media production teacher.

Toby and Kate McSpadden

"One gets what one gives. Toby has developed a kind of patience and kindness with me that I feel a need to extend to him in return. He knows when I need a good snuggle, even if he is desperate to go outside, and in return I will, for example, brave all sorts of weather, no matter how I feel or what I need, to go throw the ball and go on long walks with him, because I know that's what makes him happy."

Kate is a visual arts teacher.

Wally and Rob Dowling '91

"Wally’s enthusiasm for life and loyal affection for those around him remind me of the maxim, 'happiness is a choice.' In so many ways, happiness is based on the quality of relationships and the decision to have a positive attitude. Wally reminds me of that each day."

Rob is the Provost and a history teacher.

Tilly and Stephen O'Leary

"Every tree has a squirrels nest in it. Sometimes to get something you want, you have to beg for it, and no matter what happens on campus it’s fascinating and deserves full attention and enthusiasm!"

Stephen is a Spanish teacher.

Koda and Bob Dully

"Three things my dog has taught me: First, just because you have great hair doesn’t mean you won’t lose it (even if it's just seasonally). Second, a bark may be worse than a bite, but nothing hurts more than stepping on a hard plastic chew toy in the dark. Last… dogs need as much time and attention to raise as do teenagers. Like kids, once you figure out their way of communicating you can form a friendship that lasts a lifetime." 

Bob is the Director of Marketing and Communications.

Ayla and Katie Thorner

"All about unconditional love, to trust your intuition, and that practice makes perfect."

Dr. Thorner is a Spanish teacher and the Director of Student Activities.

Kyah and Keith Lee

"The motto 'can't get close enough,' and we love that we are the recipients of our 70-lb lap-dog's unconditional love."

Keith is a math teacher.

Trapper and Trevor Stern

"Unconditional love and to wake up happy every morning."

Trevor is the English Department Chair.

Islay, Finnegan, and Doc Sanford

"Islay has taught us to keep an eye on our food. Finnegan has taught us that there is no end to the fun one can have when chasing a ball. Their big lesson is to realize the power of unconditional love and to treasure and live in the moment."

Dr. Sanford is a science teacher.

 

Key Takeaway

As humans, we continue to grow from all the relationships we form in our life journey. For those of us that interact on a non-people level with our pooches, we can't deny that we learn invaluable lessons from them. At Avon Old Farms, students also reap the benefits of a more domestic environment created by the presence of beloved pets. Students that have an affinity for dogs can sneak in a quick fuzzy greeting on their way to class ...and students who prefer distance are afforded the respect they desire. Fifty years after Pierpont's last year as the dog-whispering Headmaster, we think he would be proud that his legacy of cultivating a harmonious environment on campus remains strong.


About the Photographer

Jacqueline Keller

Senior Marketing and Communications Project Manager

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What she learned from her cat-dog, Hailey: "It's wonderful to lay in the spot of sunshine on the carpet and just be for a little while. Also, having a short-term memory when it comes to falling down is necessary to scaling tall challenges."

About the Author

Kristen Kerwin

Associate Director of Marketing and Communications

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What I learned from Sydney: There is sweetness in life; and, it's a good thing to soak in it and then share it.

Special thanks to Cam Andrews '19 for helping us figure out how to set up the lighting. Also, a heartfelt thank you to the following alumni for waxing nostalgic in your infinite memories of Headmaster Pierpont: Knick Curtis '63, Chase Donaldson '68, Geoff Doughty '68, Rolf Olson '59, and John Wendler '68.