Teachers and staff at Bevis Elementary School in Lithia had the chance to meet and play with puppies from Southeastern Guide Dogs during Teacher Appreciation Week last month.

It takes two words to tell someone you appreciate them. Telling an entire school of teachers – now that takes a room full of puppies.

On May 4, teachers and staff at Bevis Elementary School were surprised with ‘Puppy Palooza,’ an exclusive opportunity to hold, hug and play with local guide-dog-in-training puppies as a way to say thank you for their hard work and dedication throughout the school year.

The event was inspired by a parent at the school, Patricia Tidwell, who is raising guide dog Bernard for Southeastern Guide Dogs along with her son’s fifth grade class. The puppies were brought by the Eastern Hillsborough County puppy raiser group, volunteers who take a puppy into their homes and hearts for about a year and help train them for a future serving the visually impaired, veterans with post-traumatic stress disorder and children with significant challenges.

“The dogs have become a part of our family,” said Bevis Elementary School Principal Rebecca Thoms. “When Mrs. Tidwell comes in with Bernard, we all seem to gravitate towards him to check on his progress and just spend time loving on him because he is such a calming presence. The students and staff all love him.”

When it came time to plan for Teacher Appreciation Week, Thoms said partnering with Southeastern Guide Dogs was the obvious choice. Teachers and staff were able to love on the puppies, take some calming and stress-free time to themselves and help the puppy raisers with socializing the dogs all at the same time.

“Body-handling and socializing our puppies early benefits them for their future careers and cuddling puppies is a stress relief for the teachers,” said Tidwell. “It’s a win-win.”

Seven puppies, most of which were about 12-week-old guide dogs in training, attended the event along with Bevis teachers and staff.

Bevis Elementary School is located at 5720 Osprey Ridge Dr. in Lithia. For more information about Southeastern Guide Dogs, visit www.guidedogs.org.

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