Teachers’ pets: More than a conversation starter

by Olivia Hong and Emma Zhang, Features Reporter and Features Editor

photos contributed by Deborah Bernhard and Kelly Henderson

Nobody likes a teacher’s pet, but everyone loves to hear teachers talk about their own pets. Students and teachers alike bond over their pets’ silly stories. 

One of those teachers is English teacher Kelly Henderson, who said that she loves dogs for their positive impact on her mental health.

“Dogs are the greatest gifts to humanity ever, and they make us better people,” she said. “They’re really good when you’re sad, and they force you to take walks and do things that are good for you.” 

Henderson has two rescues, Sadie and Desmond. She has had Sadie for 10 years, while Desmond is a two-year-old pandemic puppy. She said that she has enjoyed watching Sadie’s growth throughout the years.

“When we adopted [Sadie], she had been through several foster homes. She was very territorial. She had a lot of resource-guarding behaviors. If somebody tried to come to our house, she would growl and bite them. She had been living on the streets and emaciated, so she needed a lot of tender loving care,” she said. “Over the years, I’ve enjoyed watching her transform into a dog that is chill and trusts people.”

Music teacher Benjamin Youngman said that while the behaviors of his two cats Peter and Lizzy can be strange, they are entertaining nonetheless.

“[Lizzy] wants to escape all the time and go outside. As soon as she runs outside, she finds a sunspot and wriggles on the ground like a snake,” he said. “They also like to grab cat toys and masks and run around. I don’t know why they grab the elastics on the mask and just parade around and drop them in their food bowl.”

Deborah Bernhard, an English teacher, said that she has always wanted a dog. Although having a pet comes with many responsibilities, she said her dog Toby’s affection makes it all worthwhile. 

“I begged my parents for a dog when I was a kid, and they did not let me have one. My dad thought it would end up being his responsibility,” she said. “Every time I come home, [Toby is] so happy to see me. He’s pure and innocent, so he makes everything better because you can’t be mad when he’s a perfect angel.”

Similarly, Henderson said that her dog Sadie always knows how to cheer her and her family up.

“Sadie is the most soulful dog I have ever heard of. She picks up on our emotions, so when my husband and I start to get irritated with each other, not even a fight, like the beginnings of, ‘Oh, you ate the last yogurt,’ she starts thumping her tail and will get in between us and look at us like, ‘You guys can’t fight,’” she said. “She’s just so in tune with our emotions.”

While some pets may have a largely cheerful personality, English teacher Natalia Taube, who has two cats — Phoenix and Kirie — and seven chickens, said that she appreciates each of their different personalities and idiosyncrasies.

“My cat Phoenix’s favorite person in the house is my son Noah for reasons that no one can understand, and it’s really cute because he will meow until Noah lets him in his room,” she said. “Kirie is so cute all around. He purrs like a tractor, and he loves to be scratched and scratched, and he turns so you can scratch his belly. But with Phoenix, if you touch his belly, he will kill you. He will. He’s very clear about that.”

Conversations about pets extend into the classroom as well. Henderson said that she and her students bond over their appreciation of dogs.

“Sometimes I get a little evangelical about it, and so for cat lovers or bird lovers, I feel like they might feel unwelcome in my classroom,” she said. “I’m just kidding, but I do really love dogs, and so for dog-loving students, it’s an easy way to make a connection.”

Taube said that her chickens are a silly but impactful conversation starter with her students.

“There are many reasons why I connect with kids, but kids especially love that I have chickens,” she said. “If you ever want to come over and visit my chickens, then you absolutely can.”

In contrast to the age-old debate over cats and dogs, Youngman said he wishes people would see past their differences in pet preferences and appreciate different pets as individuals.

“The whole cat versus dog or any other pet thing is way overblown,” he said. “You just want to find something that you can care for and love and that hopefully loves you back.”

Taube said that she loves animals and hopes to get a variety of farm animals in the future.

“When I retire, I’m going to get a goat,” she said. “I’m going to buy acres out in western Massachusetts, and I’m going to have goats out there. Maybe some llamas, chickens.”

After having had him for more than a year, Bernhard said that spending time with Toby is a gift and great joy that comes with caring for a dog.

“Every single day [Toby] brings me immense joy,” she said. “It is a responsibility, and you obviously have to care for them and think about their needs and everything, but he brings me incredible joy every day, and I recommend that for anybody.”

As her dogs have done so much for her, Henderson said that she’s grateful to see her own impact on Sadie.

“I’m always so warmed by the idea that she gets to be the dog that she is because that wasn’t the life that she’s always had. The only tragic thing about that is I never got to see her as a puppy,” she said. “Seeing her now with her graying face, knowing that she’s climbed lots of mountains, swam in many lakes and chased many squirrels. She gets to have the good life.”