Bates the dog bids adieu to Grand Lake Elementary School
Sky-Hi Daily News
After taking the attendance, lunch and milk count each morning, first-grade teacher Mrs. Jan Wharton of Grand Lake Elementary School would put the slips in a basket and hand it to the shortest student in her class, a chubby yellow Labrador named “Bates.”
With soft floppy ears and a mellow demeanor, Bates would give a tail wag, clasp the basket in his mouth, then wobble down the hall toward the principal’s office to drop it in the hands of school secretary Kathy Weydert.
A biscuit from Weydert’s drawer was his satisfying reward.
The Wharton family pet has spent so much time in classrooms, if he had thumbs and could read, he’d be a junior in high school this year.
But before his chance at graduation, 12-year-old Bates grew old and tired with persistent arthritis and eyes that could no longer see.
“We wanted to prevent him from having a hard ending,” said Mrs. Wharton about the family’s decision to put him to sleep one week ago.
Before the next school day, the teacher called the parents of her students so the news could be relayed gently at home.
Then at school, students cried in the absence of their furry classmate.
“We talked about all the good things,” Wharton said about that day, when loss was felt throughout the school. “We plan to make a book about him.”
“He loved us, and we loved him. We were friends for him,” said first-grader Anna Zielinski.
Bates has grown to be a friend to every student and faculty member in the East Grand School District.
The Whartons acquired the Labrador from a Grand County 4-H family when he was 11 months old.
Bates’ educational career had started out rocky.
On his way to becoming a guide dog, Bates flunked out of school for being unable to resist a cookie.
So the Whartons, whose son Ben lives with a genetic syndrome (the same one shared by the real “Rainman”) adopted Bates to be Ben’s companion.
His service career took off; Bates assisted Ben to school each day.
“He helped Ben talk to people,” Wharton said.
With Bates in tow, people generally were more comfortable approaching their son to ask him questions about his dog, and “Ben knew all the answers to those questions,” Wharton said.
Besides being a social link, Bates helped Ben with his grip by needing walks with a leash, Wharton said.
Bates accompanied Ben from elementary to middle school and became the subject of countless school essays.
But when they got to eighth grade, it became apparent that Bates needed to return to elementary school.
Too often, kids were feeding him junk food, and the heightened activity proved too much for the gentle Labrador.
Back at Grand Lake Elementary, each day Bates would curl up, surrounded by children, and listen carefully as they read to him.
Sometimes he’d stay awake.
Sometimes he’d start snoring.
“He especially loved to lay in the middle during story time,” Wharton said. “He’d listen to them read, and he never corrected them.”
Occasionally, he’d try to sneak into the lunchroom, but after lunch at recess time, Bates would tag along with the kids, and they’d take him by leash to his favorite places to do business.
And for students whose “families are falling apart, I’ve seen them hugging Bates,” Wharton said.
“He was awesome,” said Grand Lake Elementary School Principal Terry Sidell. “We never had any problems. He never had any accidents in school, and he bonded really well with a lot of kids. Bates was everybody’s dog.”
“He’s really helped more kids than just Ben,” Wharton said. “He gave everything he had, and never asked for anything in return …
“Well, except biscuits.”
” Tonya Bina can be reached at 887-3334 ext.19603 or e-mail email@example.com.
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