CHS loses dedicated volunteer
By Natalie J. Ostgaard, City Editor
BriAnna Kappelhof lays on the floor of Crookston High School
Guidance Counselor Jackie Robertson’s office with Brea.
(Natalie J. Ostgaard, Photographer, 2005 photo)
Crookston High School lost a dedicated volunteer Thursday when Brea, the therapy dog who’d been a mainstay at the school for nearly six years, passed away. “She was just in school earlier in the week,” said Jackie Robertson, the CHS guidance counselor Brea has been a constant companion to since starting with the school right after 9/11. “So she was a fighter to the end.”
Although Jeanie Andringa, owner of Golden Breeze Kennels and co-proprietor of the “Paws Helping Hands” program, was actually Brea’s owner, both women have said Robertson probably spent more hours with her than anyone else over the years.
Brea had slowed down considerably in recent months, Robertson said, but they assumed it was because of her age. She was a senior citizen, after all, at 12 1/2 years.
Andringa called Robertson Tuesday to say Brea wouldn’t be in school that day as she just didn’t seem to feel well. A visit to the veterinarian determined she had an inoperable cancerous mass and that her lungs were filled with fluid. It would only be a matter of time, but Robertson was hoping she’d stick around a little while longer.
“I’d spent several hours with her, went home, and then Jeanie called me back,” she explained. “We had to let her go so she wouldn’t have to suffer. Her death was quick, peaceful and painless.” “She was a tough old bird,” Andringa added. “She never let on that she was sick.” Golden retrievers generally have a life expectancy between 11 and 14 years, so Brea lived about as long as she could, she said. She never had puppies, as she was spayed at a young age.
CHS Principal Richard Koop made the sad announcement at school Friday so the students would hear firsthand about Brea. “This just shows how much respect she earned there,” Andringa said. “It was the highest compliment for her, to have the principal, who’s quite busy with other things, personally make the announcement.”
Andringa went on to say she and her husband, Mike, very much appreciate the support the school has given the therapeutic dog program through the years, which started with her dog, Lad. Brea has been at the schools the longest, although Easton, another of Andringa’s golden retrievers, has been a fixture at Highland for a few years now.
Brea’s passing leaves CHS without a certified therapy dog to help calm even the most agitated students and assist them in their educational ventures. But Andringa said Bella, a golden retriever owned by Jeff and Melissa Perrault, has been training for the job in anticipation of Brea’s retirement and would be coming to the school this spring or early next fall.
A litter of pups born to Andringa’s dog Kizmet 14 weeks ago also brought a surprising turn for the therapy dog program. Although she intended to sell them all, after taking her to the schools a few times, it was decided that one particular little girl, Gracie, would someday carry on the torch for Brea.
“She’s already very in to tune to the school, the students,” she said. “I’m able to bring her without her chewing on the kids. It’s just her personality. She’s going to be great.”
A tribute . . . Robertson wrote this tribute to Brea:
Please let me tell you about my angel, my healer, my hero.
Six years ago, Jeanie and Mike Andringa introduced me to this beautiful six-year-old golden retriever and asked me if I would ever want to have her in my office as a certified therapy dog. The next day, Brea pranced into the school, tail wagging and eager to come to work. Her unconditional love, undying devotion and limitless loyalty towards the students and staff brought out the kindness in everybody.
Miraculous things happened when Brea was around. She instinctively sensed someone’s pain and hurt and her customary response would be to lay by them waiting to, perhaps, be patted on her head, or better yet, received a hug. Brea never discriminated. It didn’t matter to her the color of your skin or if you were rich or poor. There was always enough warmth and gentleness to go around. She was a reservoir of comfort and love.
I am filled with deep gratitude to Jeanie and Mike for so unselfishly sharing this beautiful dog with me for all these years and for giving me the gift to be with Brea at the end. I got to say good bye. I got to tell her how much I loved her. I got to kiss her soft fur one last time. As painful as it was, I knew it was time to let go. Her work here was complete. Our trusted friend touched the lives of those who knew her. I miss her.
My life has forever been changed because Brea was in it.