After 52 years of cuddles, Orion says goodbye

Port Moody school's Pacific Assistance Dog hangs up his vest after a long career

Orion hung up his vest recently and Aspenwood elementary school in Port Moody won’t be the same.

It’s a well deserved retirement for the guy who has spent years helping students with their homework and daily concerns.

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School assemblies? They’ll be less fun without Orion, who was recognized for his hard work over the years at a special assembly.

He received a certificate recognizing his service, counted in dog years — about 52 — and now it’s time for a much deserved rest and some cuddle time, says his handler, Lindsay Hill, a Grade 4/5 teacher at the Port Moody school.

Orion was School District 43’s first Pacific Assistance Dog (PADS) service dog, brought into schools nearly eight years ago and with his waggy tail, distinctive blue vest and yellow coat — an instant celebrity.

“His over-the top affinity for people landed him the perfect gig,” Hill said. “He enjoyed cuddling with students.”

Still frisky in this photo taken in 2013 with teacher Lindsay Hill, Orion has now retired. He was last posted to Aspenwood elementary school in Port Moody. - Diane Strandberg/File

Over the years, Orion has seen and done it all, spending time at both Aspenwood elementary and Como Lake middle, and with UBC research suggesting the presence of a dog can enhance reading skills, has been an important contributor to student success.

He also seems to know when a student needs extra attention, says Hill, and many parents have told her he helped their kids overcome school anxiety enough to get them through the door.

Orion was a fixture at the school, with several clubs organized to take advantage of his skills, including a popular mentorship club and a walking club.

“What I observed over the years, just [dogs']  sheer presence and part of that is they’re just naturally so inclusive — they just bring us together,” said Hill, who did research and a presentation for her master’s degree on how dogs can promote social and emotional learning.

She remembers when she first presented the idea of a PADS dog to SD43, and now there are 10 working pooches in the district and a policy that guides their presence.

Orion will now be at home full-time, hanging out with Hill’s husband, and relaxing as only dogs know how to do.

Still, there will be days when he will miss the kids, and they will miss him.

Hill acknowledged as much with a little catch in her voice when she said: “Definitely they will miss him, and I will, too.”

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